The Holy Trinity of Youtube – Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart – have joined forces to create a nostalgic film all about friendship and achieving your dreams. Camp Takota (2014) tells the story of Elise (Helbig), who is a sort-of-miserable publishing assistant who dreams of having her own book in print one day. She also has a lovely fiancee, with whom she’s planning a beautiful honeymoon to Paris. When disaster strikes and Elise finds herself down on her luck, she decides to head back to her childhood camp to become a counsellor and hide away from reality for the summer. After more drama at the camp, she and her two childhood friends, Maxine (M. Hart) and Allison (H. Hart), must work together to ensure that their beloved camp will stay open for future generations to enjoy.
I purchased this film from CampTakota.com because I have a big crush on Mamrie Hart and I adore her Youtube channel. I wasn’t really expecting too much from the film, and it was a fairly enjoyable watch. However, if that synopsis above sounds a bit jam-packed, it’s because the movie also jam-packed with lots of little things. With quite a bit of setup, a lot of jokes, and a whole bunch of conflict introduced towards the end, sometimes the film can feel over-stuffed yet under-explored.
I’ll start from the beginning. Elise is living with her fiancee Jeff, played by fellow Youtube personality Chester See. They live in Chicago. Do you know how I know it’s set in Chicago? Because this part of the film has almost as much subtlety as a really great (sarcasm) film I saw recently, On The Line (2001), which is also set in Chicago. In fact they had the exact same shot of the exact same train line (the L train? I only know that because of Lance Bass). Was it stock footage? Because a lot of the beginning of the film seems to consist of stock footage of the city. There is also Chicago Cubs merchandise everywhere, just in case we forget the film is set in Chicago. The music also sounds like stock music. The beginning of the film is, overall, fairly dull yet necessary. And there are some audio syncing issues that are mildly annoying, but it does improve after this introductory segment of the film.
The performances in this film are alright. Grace is a fairly good actor. It was surprising to see her so comfortably take on a dramatic role when comedy is usually her genre of choice. However, the moments where she almost breaks character, and the actual friendship with her co-stars shines through, is where she is most likeable. Mamrie is, by contrast, a great comedic and dramatic actress. Hannah is the weak link of the three. She’s not a good actor, but she is likeable. My feeling is that she’s not really in the film to be a good actor though; she’s there to complete the Holy Trinity and have them all represented in this film, which is clearly a labour of love for all of them. In terms of the minor characters, Chester See is not a good actor at all, but the rest of them are alright. It was interesting to see all these Youtubers make the transition from showcasing their personality in relatively short video clips on the internet, to acting in a feature-length film. By and large, they tend to succeed as a result of their own charm rather than their relative acting ability.
The directing in Camp Takota is kind of stock standard. Nothing special here. I got really sick of seeing crossfade transitions between scenes. There are some lovely establishing shots for scenes where the beautiful nature of the camp is showcased, and of dust dancing across sunlight that shines through an empty camp dorm. But there are a bunch of continuity errors and goofs as well that can be off-putting. This film also loves montages, and they can get a bit old by the end. I never thought I would get sick of montages, but there is such a thing as too many. The film is subject to a number of editing issues throughout, the most notable of which is at the very end: during a camp musical performance, the audio between cuts doesn’t seem to match up properly and the resulting song sounds choppy and out of time. The script can also be awkward and cheesy, but overall, it isn’t bad. There’s an emphasis on physical comedy and puns, and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments if that’s your kind of humour.
The central conflict of the film is quite predictable: the camp is in crisis and the gang have to save it! This probably could have been constructed in such a way that it feels like a genuine threat, however the film makes the mistake of packing in too much conflict and resolving it almost too easily. My overall feeling was that the story needed a bit of editing here and there. Even though the central story develops at a good pace, some elements are developed in a too much of a rushed pace.
Further into the film, Elise gets a love interest in the form of Eli, played by Chris Riedell. This is probably the major weak point of the film. The love story element is both predictable and unconvincing, and rockets along at light-speed as if it’s just been shoved in there for the genre’s sake. There’s awkward flirting and almost-kissing, and the romance is so self-aware that I found myself dreading a scene with just Elise and Eli in it. Although this is a negative, it also reflects a positive of the film – instead of deviating into a derivative love story, I really wanted to see more of the Holy Trinity together on screen because these were the most fun moments of the film. Maybe I just wanted to see more of Mamrie. I love her.
Also there’s a nice 90s techno breakdown over the end credits produced by another great Youtube personality, DJ Flula.
Despite my criticisms, Camp Takota was an enjoyable film. It’s heartwarming and funny without being too cheesy. Plus I’m a sucker for pun-based jokes. It’s clear that the three main ladies have put their heart and soul into it and are so proud of their first film together. I have to say, I’m not really the target audience for this film. Firstly, I’m not a huge fan of feel good movies, a ‘genre’ of which this film does indeed subscribe. I’m also not a rabid fan of the three of them together, even though I love and adore Mamrie’s solo Youtube videos with a passion. This film is targeted towards their hardcore fans, and hardcore fans will not be disappointed. To everyone else, this film will be more of an entertaining yet standard summer-camp-friendship film.
Watch the trailer here.