Silver Screen Cinema

Summer Camp Review

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Photo of Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton

Roadside Attractions

Rated: PG-13

96 Minutes

Directed by: Castille Landon

Starring: Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard


Summer Camp Poster

After years of being relegated to minor roles as supportive grandmothers, septuagenarian and octogenarian actresses are enjoying a Renaissance in a formerly nearly all-male genre, the buddy comedy. Last year, audiences were “treated” to 80 for Brady and Book Club: The Next Chapter, which was itself a sequel to the earlier Book Club. This year, we have Summer Camp, featuring Diane Keaton (78), Kathy Bates (75), and Alfre Woodard (71). While it’s great to see these actresses in substantial roles, it’s a shame they are toiling bravely in support of a movie that’s a disgrace to both granny buddies and summer camp movies.

Summer Camp starts with a prequel set some 50 years earlier, as outcast tween campers Nora, Jenny, and Mary form a bond because nobody wants anything to do with them. Ironically, the ten minutes spent with younger actresses in these roles were better than anything with

Keaton, Bates, and Woodard in the remaining 80 minutes (and could have made an entertaining movie if expanded to feature length). Over the next few years, the trio became inseparable summer companions who somehow permanently separated once they reached adulthood. In the present day, their former camp stages its first summer reunion, and the former Jenny, now self-help guru Ginny Moon (Bates), browbeats the others into going with her. Nora (Keaton) is now the workaholic widowed CEO of a bioengineering company, and Mary (Woodard) is an emergency room nurse with a controlling husband (Tom Wright). When they arrive at camp, they find Ginny has replaced their old bug-infested digs with a minibar-stocked cabin that resembles the most luxurious Vrbo ever.

You can probably guess where Summer Camp is heading, especially after Stevie D (Eugene Levy) and Tommy (Dennis Haysbert), Nora and Mary’s former camp crushes, show up. You’d be half right. Director Castille Landon packs in every bicker-and-bonding and silly-camp-antics cliché you can imagine into the movie. The only problem is that none of these scenes are emotionally satisfying or funny. It’s left for the actresses to carry the film by themselves. The result is like the proverbial example of Laurence Olivier reading the telephone book. It’s an admirable effort, but a supreme waste of time and talent.

Standard summer camp fare abounds, but director Landon has no idea how to stage these scenes. There’s a food fight without a single memorable sight gag moment, just Woodard and Bates chucking stray meatballs at various extras to the tune of “Ballroom Blitz” on the soundtrack. (Keaton wisely ducks out of these festivities early). However, she’s not as lucky when the trio goes rafting, and she winds up in the water. I guess the filmmakers thought the very idea of an Oscar-winning actress in the drink was hilarious (they must not have seen The River Wild), but the humor was non-existent. (Spoiler: the others pull her back into the boat, none the worse for wear.) And if that wasn’t enough humiliation for Keaton, she gets to panic about going zip-lining.

Summer Camp is full of setups with no payoffs. The luxury cabin idea is rife with possibilities but is reduced to a single sight gag. Ginny arranges a fashion makeover for Nora, but it’s just the same outfits Diane Keaton has worn since her “Annie Hall” days. I’m still scratching my head, trying to figure out the humor there. Another talented but badly under-used actress, Beverly D’Angelo, attends the reunion as head of the former Pretty Committee. Anyone expecting a catty rivalry between D’Angelo and the three leads will have to settle for one unfunny joke about the Committee’s plastic surgery enhancements before they go off alone for the rest of the movie.

Worst of all is the obligatory autumn romance between Levy and Keaton. Eugene Levy is many things, but a sex symbol is not one of them. Summer Camp might have been funny if the filmmakers allowed Levy to play the role as a likable klutz, but he steps into a part that Don Johnson, Harry Hamlin, and Andy Garcia have played much better in similar movies. At least the scenes with Alfre Woodard and Dennis Haysbert work. They have good chemistry together, and a moment when they attend a pottery-making class is the best in the movie.

Summer Camp was filmed on location in North Carolina, and the many outdoor shots show off the lush wilderness surroundings to enjoyable effect. However, the incredible scenery is the only thing I recommend about the movie. Its dramatic moments resemble scenes from a half-dozen Hallmark movies cobbled together. The funniest line wasn’t even intended as a joke. One night, Keaton sneaks into the 90s-vintage computer lab so she can check her emails. She then moans that she’s gotten and could not respond to 250 emails in her absence. I kept thinking I’m the CEO of nothing and get more emails than that every day. In the end, that’s what Summer Camp amounts to… great actresses doing nothing amid the great outdoors.      

In this clip, Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates, and Alfre Woodard get their first look at their new cabin:

Watch Diane Keaton on Amazon Prime Video:

Book Club: The Next Chapter Streaming
Book Club Streaming
The First Wives Club Streaming

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