‘Summer Camp’ Review: Diane Keaton And Septuagenarian Cast In Another By-The-Numbers Senior Comedy Attempt To Get Laughs From Boomers

It is a sad state of affairs in Hollywood when you can have such talented actors as Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard, but the best you can do is stick them in boomer-baiting forgettable comedic contrivances like Summer Camp, the latest in a long line of movies for Keaton, who also is a producer on it, in which she is cast with female peers of similar age to mix slapschtick with attempted pathos and senior romance. It is the kind of formula you can sell with a simple pitch: Take three beloved septuagenarian Oscar winning and nominated stars and send them back to the summer camp where they bonded as kids. Hilarity and hijinks ensue, along with giving each a later-in-life regret or dead husband to add a bit of drama to the proceedings. Bingo! The mid-week matinees will be sellouts!

Sorry if that all sounds a bit cynical because I am a genuine fan of these stars and similar movies like Book Club and 80 For Brady were fun and heartfelt, but Summer Camp turns out beat-for-beat to be exactly what I thought it was going to be, and even target audiences of a certain age still deserve something, anything a little more surprising to keep the heart going strong.

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There’s nothing really blatantly wrong with writer/director Castille Landon’s screenplay or its casting which blessedly includes Eugene Levy and Dennis Haysbert in the perfuntory single older male roles Andy Garcia usually gets parts in these days. It’s just so predictable. Think of the high school reunion you dread going to and you pretty much have Summer Camp.

The plot is driven by Ginny (Bates) a self-promoting self help guru who still feels her glory days, as her opening narration suggests, took place with her two BFFs as kids and teens in the eight weeks a year they got to spend at Camp Pinnacle in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Although their adult years and lives have largely kept them apart, she concocts a 50-year reunion for campers to once again converge on Pinnacle to relive the best years of their lives, and urges Nora (Keaton), a workaholic widowed corporate executive, and Mary (Woodard), an ER nurse unhappy in a 45-year marriage to a man who doesn’t appreciate her, to join her back in the cabin that hasn’t changed nearly as much as they have. Over the course of this outing they will take a rafting trip, a bow and arrow venture for Nora that proves she should have neither bow nor arrow, a bungie venture not for people with vertigo, even an elderly Animal House-style food fight that would make John Belushi wince.

And of course, there are even suggestions of senior romance, particularly for the very reluctant and awkwardly nervous Nora which has Keaton still doing her Annie Hallisms with the mature and balanced Stevie D played with nice restraint by Levy who gets a chance to show a different side of his talent than movies generally have allowed. We also feel Mary might get a little hanky panky with the very nice Tommy (Haysbert) but her own domestic problems stand in the way and this potential relationship gets short shrift. Overall, the three leads discuss their lives, dreams, regrets, good times, bad times, and because all three are such accomplished actors they manage to keep these characters from sailing over the top.

For all her bravado and wiseacre lines, Bates does show that Ginny is a bit lonely and sad she hasn’t had the chance at family her other two friends have, but in terms of films about facing aging I would recommend checking out the other film Bates is in this week, HBO’s The Great Lillian Hall in which she is terrific opposite a dementia-ridden Jessica Lange. Also, what the red-wigged Bates has been saddled with here is a bit distracting. The always fine Woodard is not given a lot of scenes where she gets to have fun, but instead is stuck with scenes dwelling on her unhappy home life, even to the point of a brief intrusion by her husband who just wants to take her back home before the week is up so she can return to their miserable existence. Keaton is pretty much flummoxed all the time, a woman who can’t seem to decide what she wants with Stevie D or anything else, or even to just succumb to Ginny’s urging that she simply “get laid”. As usual in recent films Keaton’s very distinct wardrobe desires are on full display, wildly out of place in this summer camp setting.

Among the supporting cast, Beverly D’Angelo gets a couple of scenes as a former rival of our trio of camp returnees, Nicole Richie has little to do as a camp employee, Josh Peck is nicely oafish as another camp worker, and Betsy Sodaro seems to be channeling a low rent version of Melissa McCarthy as an over-the-top staffer who makes trouble for our girls.

There have been diminishing returns in this boomer comedy genre since 2018’s smart and funny Book Club proved there was genuine boxoffice appeal for movies with older actresses in their 70’s and 80’s, a demo usually ignored by Hollywood, with movies that followed including a Book Club sequel, Poms about a group of retirement home cheerleaders, and Mack & Rita about a 30-something who magically turns into her 70-something self. All starred Keaton, who isn’t getting the kinds of roles, such as Nancy Meyers provided her with in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give, that she richly deserves. So it appears it’s routine stuff like Summer Camp that keeps her working, just like it is revenge films that do the same for Liam Neeson. Don’t you wish Hollywood might have something a little meatier for these talents? Sure hope so.

Title: Summer Camp
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Release Date: May 31, 2024
Director/Screenplay: Castille Landon
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard, Dennis Haysbert, Eugene Levy, Josh Peck, Nicole Richie, Betsy Sodaro, Beverly D’Angelo, Victoria Rowell.
Rating : PG13
Running Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes

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