by Ken B.
Not too long ago, the movies were where people went to become famous. Now, movies are where people can go after they’ve become famous. With the Internet opening us up to all kinds of talent that we might have never known about otherwise, many of them still decide to pursue more traditional media. Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart are all individually famous for their work on their respective YouTube channels, garnering millions of subscribers combined and fans the world over. Recently, they have made a film called Camp Takota, directed by Chris and Nick Riedell. The movie is a pleasant enough diversion, even if the story is entirely predictable and the comedy nowhere near as consistently funny as its leads have constantly proved themselves to be.
Helbig plays Elise, a woman in Chicago who manages the social media outlets of a book publisher. At the start, her life’s going pretty well. She’s just finished her first manuscript. She’s about to get married to a journalist named Jeff (Chester See) who has only five percent body fat. But soon, it comes crashing down. After accidentally posting compromising photos of her boss (Rachel Quaintance) to the company’s Facebook page, she is fired. Then she learns that less than a month before their wedding, Jeff has been cheating on her. Mind you, all of these things occur in the same day. Elise spends the night drunk in her apartment, and in the process (it’s a long story), ends up offering to become a counselor at her old summer camp, Camp Takota. Sally (Ellen Karsten), the camp’s director, accepts, and soon Elise is taken back to the place where she spent many childhood summers, reunited with her old friends Maxine (Mamrie Hart) and Allison (Hannah Hart), who work there as well, and embarks on a few months that will reshape her life.
I suppose you can see right from reading the synopsis above that this movie’s setup doesn’t have a single original bone in its body. The plot takes some mildly interesting turns towards the end, but it is largely achieved by its cast more than the script. I’ve discussed the works of its three stars, but it’s worth noting the participation of See and Sawyer Hartman, who has a cameo-length role at the start of the film. They both have large YouTube followings, and were likely brought along for the ride by their colleagues. I mention this purely because Camp Takota would have been completely obscure had the screenplay been produced with unknown actors – the movie is unremarkable in nearly every sense of the word. The cast, speaking of which, does well, with the chemistry between Helbig, Hart, and Hart as arguably the film’s best quality, but this isn’t shocking considering the fact that a handful of those among them that aren’t actors in the “traditional” sense already have high-profile backgrounds in performing, although I’d venture the guess that it’s probably quite different to make a 100 minute feature than short form content for more immediate online consumption, so the effort at least should be acknowledged.
Camp Takota isn’t entirely without merit, however – it’s not even close to total failure in any respect. The film makes some good observations about friendship, pursuing happiness, and nostalgia, and there are more than a few jokes that do land successfully. The summer exteriors are shot nicely by co-director Nick Riedell (as he was also the DP) – scenes at the camp have a warm, hazy visual glow to them. It’s neatly paced, never feeling too rushed or too long, and its (admittedly two dimensional) characters are given plenty of time to move throughout their storylines at a comfortable rate. And the fact still stands that this is a movie clearly made for the fans, and many of them have voiced support and praise for it, so it succeeds on those grounds. But when it comes to watching it on its own merits, and evaluating from that perspective, there’s significantly less to be said.
So before you ask… no, I didn’t hate this movie. It’s just that it didn’t leave any discernible impact, good or bad, on me. At all. Maybe I’m just not a big enough fan of the talent (I’m a casual viewer of co-writer Mamrie Hart’s wordplay-laden and gloriously boozy YouTube show You Deserve a Drink, but that’s as far as it really goes), or maybe I’m just tired of dramadies like these that seemingly come along every seven minutes. Or maybe it’s a combination of those components. I think Camp Takota is something loaded with good intentions, but good intentions don’t automatically indicate good results. The script is formulaic, the plot is predictable, and as a result, the movie isn’t very engaging.