Here’s a scary thought. Imagine “Man Camp” as produced by a major film studio.
The story of three men pining for their Alpha Male dad would brim with “messages,” contrived set pieces and, mostly likely, few laughs.
As is, “Man Camp” avoids all of the above. It starts strong, offers insights into the male psyche and finds the humor in some depressing places.
Brothers Adam (Daniel Cummings), Kevin (Erik Stocklin, “Haters Back Off!”) and Tim (Scott Kruse) gather once a year for a ritual they call “Man Camp.” It’s their way of keeping the spirit of their beloved Pa, so manly he once crowed, “tools are for cowards,” alive.
The latest Man Camp adventure comes with a shock. The brothers find their widowed Mom (Tammy Kaitz) romancing a new beau at the family cabin.
They take the news … badly.
It gets worse when, through a clever plot device, they’re forced to spend time with poor Alan (Pete Gardner, a sublime straight man). Their future stepfather makes cruelty-free veggie omelettes, adores bird watching and probably couldn’t throw a spiral to save his soul.
He’s the antithesis of their Warrior Dad. That cannot stand.
FAST FACT: The writing team behind “Man Camp” (Cummings, Kruse and Josh Long) drew inspiration from their generation’s “Peter Pan Syndrome,” an inability to fully embrace what it means to be an adult.
What follows is an exploration of the male ego from a number of compelling angles, Oh, and laughs bubble up early and often, the rich, rewarding kind.
Even the prologue is a hoot, funnier in and of itself than some mainstream comedies.
Some of the tests the brothers make Alan endure border on the absurd, if not outright cruelty, the one time the film’s sturdy tone wobbles. Still, they’re dealt with swiftly, creating a larger portrait of grown men refusing to act their age.
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Dudes behave badly, and they often think in ways that makes little sense. The film taps into that comic vein without apology. The gimmick at the heart of the film – sons unwilling to accept their mother’s love life – is typically male and regressive.
It exists, though, and the screenplay molds it like clay.
“Man Camp” isn’t here to dress down “toxic masculinity,” and it frequently finds the funny in beta male antics. The jokes flow from the characters and their distinct personalities. Stocklin’s Kevin gets the cliched Comic-Con fanboy role, but he brings an inner strength that proves refreshing.
Kruse, the group’s rampaging Id, proves himself a serial scene stealer.
A critical third act twist unites the narrative threads, but a simple explanation would kill it in a New York minute. And the screenplay should have given Adam’s wife (Anna Rubley) more screen time. Her early moments are priceless, and we need more of her and Adam together to see the so-called “mature” brother in action.
Otherwise, “Man Camp” moves effortlessly from scene to scene, allowing these very different brothers a chance to evolve, even if they hate every second of it. Even the film’s dramatic detour delivers both pathos and discovery.
HiT or Miss: “Man Camp” is a wonderful surprise, a smart and funny look at family bonds and the ways we prevent ourselves from growing up.