Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart have been called the holy trinity of YouTube and it’s not hard to figure out why in the scenes the trio with more than 3 million subscribers share in their movie Camp Takota, which most appropriate releases today on Valentine’s Day.
Even in character the three are charming, funny and strangely captivating to watch as they bring to life a summer camp movie that’s as true and reverent to the subject matter as it is quirky and irreverent. The film opens in Chicago, introducing a young soon-to-be married publishing professional named Elise (Helbig) who is on the verge of making it as a YA novelist (her book is about a lochness monster who falls in love with a centar) and days away from exchanging wedding vows. After running into her old camp director, Elise’s life swiftly caves in on her as she accidentally posts a photo to her company’s Facebook page of her boss making out with a popular young author and goes home to find her husband-to-be entertaining another woman at his apartment.
Turning to the bottle to cope with this drastically horrible turn of events, Elise decides to take up her old camp director’s offer of returning to camp as a counselor, repeatedly drunk dialing her before passing out and waking up in a daze as a woman resembling a reality show housewife bangs on her door telling her she is there to take her to Camp Takota. Once in the van with her trashbag for a suitcase, we are introduced to the woman’s daughter, Penny, who with her Elvis Costello glasses might be the most adorable camper ever to appear in a summer camp movie.
Elise ends up being Penny’s counselor, but she’s anything but thrilled about the predicament she’s gotten herself into. Though she has fond memories of camp and is reunited with her two best friends from camp Maxine (Mamrie Hart) and Allison (Hannah Hart), she’s even more miserable than the most homesick of campers and isn’t afraid to let it show. Just the opposite is Maxine, who sports a purple fanny pack like she owns it, plans events like the Lady Gaga Ice Cream Social and Katy Perry Kayak Jam, and is being groomed to take over the camp at summer’s end.
The dream Maxine has essentially been working for her whole life is threatened when the camp director’s obnoxious son shows up with a strange sidekick talking about his plans to convert the camp known for not having cell phone reception into a Digital Interactive Camp. Camp Takota, as it turns out, is like a lot of traditional overnight summer camps short on cash and struggling to attract campers because of the competition from specialty camps (I like to call them not-camps). Maxine captures this best and reminds me of my own camp when she says, “I know Takota isn’t the prettiest girl at the dance, but she’s our girl.”
Saving a camp being threatened by an outside force is a time-honored tradition in summer camp movies – a similar scenario at a fictional camp once produced this gem of a rap video starring Jaleel White. So too is the story about the counselor falling for a guy who lives on the other side of the lake, which develops between Elise and local farmer Eli (played by channeling-Paul-Rudd co-director Chris Riedell). But rather than come off as cliche or forced, the movie’s predictable format and structure still leaves room for some pleasant surprises and a few twists that ultimately make it a win not only for its YouTube-famous stars but for everyone involved.
I was graciously provided with a link to view the film ahead of its release date and in my correspondence with the Camp Takota team I wrote that based on the trailer alone Camp Takota was already better than Betaville, a movie I consider the worst summer camp movie of all time (it’s so confusing to watch it doesn’t even fall into so-bad-it’s-good territory like all of the Meatballs sequels). I’m happy to report that it’s not only better than Betaville; it’s well deserving of a mention in those click-bait website lists of summer camp movies that will be making the rounds again in a few months. Count me as a fan.
To see the movie and purchase merchandise, go to www.camptakota.com.