My Review of Camp Takota!

If you’re not familiar with the Holy Trinity of youtube, then you’ve been missing out on some funny, funny content. The Trinity is comprised of Hannah Hart from My Drunk Kitchen and the hugely successful MyHarto channel, Grace Helbig from the popular daily show It’sGrace (Formerly Daily Grace) and Mamrie Hart(no relation to Hannah) from her own show, You Deserve A Drink. Along with their success as individuals, they’ve crossed over several times before in their videos, and such meetings are instant fan fodder, so the news that they were making a movie together was something that everybody was excited to hear. The movie was called Camp Takota, and it was released to some popular appeal. And now it’s available for free on Netflix! Will this scripted movie mesh well with their flair for improvisational humor? Let’s take a look.

The movie begins with Grace Helbig playing an awkward woman-child who’s trying way too hard to be quirky and adorkable. A stretch, I know, but the power of her acting should make for a convincing performance. She plays a character named Elise, because… Why give a self insert Lego brick character a common and non-pretentious sounding name? I have never in my life met anyone with that name, but hey, as long as the writer gets to live out some alternate name fantasy.  Heh, maybe I’ll write a movie where my name is Cornwallace, that’d be sweet.  Anyway, she’s teaching herself some basic french for an upcoming wedding that’s being clumsily exposited through answering machine messages. Yeah, you know that thing movies do where characters explain things to each other that they already know for the sake of the audience? This movie does it to. She makes breakfast in bed for her hunky fiance, played by Chester See… Another insurmountable acting challenge… But he’s acting cold towards her, and even refuses the offer of a quickie. This is a decent way to foreshadow the fact that he’s cheating on her, although I would like to point out that infidelity rarely ever results in a complete lack of passion towards the one being wronged, and it doesn’t really fit with his surprise appearance at the end of the movie.

A woman who makes a lame Driver’s license joke introduces Camp Takota to the plot, then drops a joke about a crotch-measuring app, which is one of many Adam Sandler-level jokes you’ll hear throughout this film.  Wait, maybe I judged too harshly, maybe it comes back at some point in the script. She goes to work, where we meet her high-strung and demanding boss, who dumps a load of work on her that she seems put off by, then accuses her of whatever her definition of sarcasm is and insults her jacket for no good reason. It looks like a normal jacket to me… Is she the mother of that one girl in the classroom from Silent Hill Revelations? Anyway, Elise plugs her book that she just finished… Yes, JUST finished, not having sent it to a professional, unbiased editor or anything… Which is basically Twilight with the Loch Ness Monster. Because it’s her jacket that’s the parody here.

The bitchy dialogue we hear from Elise’s boss is our first indicator of Mamrie Hart’s writing style… It’s stilted, full of inane details that don’t matter, it’s pretentious in the way that it sounds like every line of it took hours of thinking beforehand, and it just sounds like a writer trying way too hard to make herself appear more clever than she actually is. There is not one line of dialogue in the entire movie that sounds like it came from the lips of a real person, although the overacting also doesn’t help. I get the strange feeling that this character is supposed to be a female version of Dr. Cox, but the actress they picked is NO female equivalent of John C McGinley.

She sits down at her computer… The Apple Cash Grab… As a parody of Edward Cullen walks by a bunch of screaming teenagers who are somehow in the building. He’s clearly only feigning interest in girls their age, though, as Elise and a friend discover their uptight boss making out with prettyboy in the middle of a staircase. Because yeah, they’re really dedicated to keeping this a secret. I mean, she has an office, right?  One with…  A fucking door?  Elise’s friend takes a few pictures of them, and then disappears for the rest of the movie. Why? Because her only job in this movie is to be the one taking the picture, so when Elise gets fired for accidentally uploading it, she won’t be directly responsible for her downfall. Because that would be WAY too relatable.

She goes home, seeking the support of her fiance, but is tipped off to the possibility of him hiding something when she sees two glasses on the table. Yeah, the fact that he wants her to go to the bar ahead of him so he can go through the time consuming task of putting on a freaking shirt wasn’t the big clue. We meet the girl he’s cheating on her with, and while she’s not prettier than Elise, it’s still believable due to the distinct possibility that she’s more interesting with a better personality.

Elise walks out and starts hammering down the drinks, which causes her to drunk-dial the older woman from earlier and request a job at her childhood home-away-from-home, Camp Takota! Never mind the fact that she’s not acting convincingly drunk, and she doesn’t look convincingly hung over afterwards. Yeah, that’s the problem with hiring actors who we’ve already seen in a bazillion youtube videos…  We’ve seen her drunk, we’ve seen her hung over, and we know by comparison that she’s faking it here. Thus, she gets a ride to camp with a couple of white yuppies and a child who’s wearing the glasses of some big-headed guy that they ran over.  Because silly props equal jokes.

At camp, we meet Hannah Hart, who’s playing a lesbian cook… Once again, a stretch, but the power of acting! We also meet Jenna Marbles, who’s playing a foul mouthed guidance counselor who needs to lay off the sauce, and the Prank Vs. Prank people playing romantically involved camp counselors who just can’t stop playing pranks on each other, because why the hell not? My god, at least Mamrie’s playing an actual character. A character who literally says the same exact thing about two other characters in the space of one scene… That you can’t believe a word either of them says… But a character nonetheless.

She gets settled in, helping Maxine(Mamrie) to prove that their scripted conversations are nowhere near as funny as their actual conversations, and goes out to the woods to lonesomely reminisce about her time there as a teen. This is… An admittedly good scene, very well edited, and it would probably be more touching if I cared about the character. But we have to rush through it, as the tots have arrived, and they’re strictly warned not to get involved with the only man on the grounds, Chet the handyman. I’m not sure why they didn’t just hire a handywoman, I mean I’m sure there are some available, but whatever. Alison(Hannah) brings a boombox on stage so Maxie can rap about the camp’s rules, and I’ve never been this happy to see a musical number cut short.

Maxine punishes a girl for trying to use improv… Which makes sense, I mean how dare she try to make this movie funny? And dumps one of the most embarrassingly obvious products placement yet, which is saying something when Elise had the world’s fastest Mac in her office. Seriously, making the movie freeze a few times while a beachball spins on screen would have been a more accurate product representation. In any case, in the ensuing montage of Elise having trouble adjusting, she goes outside to relieve herself in the bushes, which… Ugh. I’ll get to the problems this creates later.

Elise seeks refuge with Alison, who reveals that Maxine hides a bottle of Jack inside a box of oat cereal, since no kid in their right mind would look there. Oh, except yeah, that’s total bullshit. When I was a kid, I knew plenty of kids who liked healthy food, even broccoli and brussel sprouts, so that plan seems about as responsible as hiring a socially awkward male maintenance worker to live amongst a bunch of underaged girls. Then again, you can’t assume that a movie plagued with Misty hair-dos would really know all that much about teenagers in the first place.

Maxine holds a ghost story camp fire, where it seems like only one of the campers is allowed to talk, and the rest just do a very bad job of not looking bored while they pretend to be scared. Then, Elise comes out of the shower the next morning, to discover she’s gotten poison ivy on her privates! Ah-ha!  Oh, she’s so charmingly quirky!  Okay, so, there are two problems with this development. First of all, if the camp has working showers, and Alison has access to a working sink, it means Takota has plumbing. So it probably has working toilets. So why the hell was Elise peeing in the bushes? And the other… Well… Don’t ask me how I know this, but if you’ve got poison ivy on your privates, that’s not something you see before feeling it. That shit hurts, and I can only imagine it would hurt worse for girls than for guys. And yet Elise never shows any sign of pain… She walks uncomfortably a few times, but it looks more like she has a wedgie than a giant freaking rash on her taint.

Third problem? This owuld have been the perfect opportunity to deliver a punchline tothat Crotch-rot app “joke” from earlier.  Just have Alison say “Ya know, with a cell phone tower, we could have seen this coming,” and then bring up  the app again.  But no, that would provide a potential positive for the villain’s plan, and we don’t want that!  Shun complexity and nuance!  Shuuuuunnnnnnn!  Also, this is yet another clue that this is just a gender-bent Adam Sandler movie, which becomes even more evident when Elise blows up at some campers for teasing her about her love life, and I refuse to believe her speech to them wasn’t inspired by The Wedding Singer. Seriously, she denounces the existence of love, and does everything short of singing “Love Stinks” while looking like she doesn’t believe a word of it. Maxine takes this as a cry for help, so the three girls throw a drinking party in Alison’s cabin, where they make fun of the Paranormal romance genre in every possible way that the novel Awoken did it better.

The party is interrupted by Obvious Loveinterest… At least I think that was his name… A damaged, rugged looking sensitive guy who’s so conveniently single that he makes the viewer truly believe in the love between a centaur and a loch ness monster. He’s played by Who Givesashitatthispoint, and his role in the story is to be the completion of Elise’s character arc, so the writer doesn’t have to bother with any of that development or personal growth crap. He says she’s too old to be a camp counselor… Despite the fact that she’s in the same age group as Maxine and Alison… And sparks of awkward flannel chemistry fly!

Elise and Maxine hammer in the possibility of this relationship, then Elise’s campers hammer in what grown-ups think is teenage dialogue, and one of the poor little moppets who wasn’t allowed to speak during the ghost story earlier gets a pity throwaway line, on account of her being the only black person in the movie. The Handyman is portrayed as dumb and socially bankrupt, because stereotypes. But that’s nothing compared to the stereotypes we’re about to meet, as a gay stereotype(Who I refuse to believe Hannah Hart didn’t complain about) drives up alongside a…  Umm…  Special stereotype who’s look was probably inspired by Keith Apicary. Their plan is to demolish the camp and replace it with a new high tech computer camp, because… I don’t know why. I mean, his mother is the owner of Takota, so there had to be other non-Scroogey locations to choose from.

In any case, this is happening. The camp is being threatened by the evolution of technology, and low pre-registration numbers mean it’s going to be shut down by the end of the year. And I’m just going to say this up front… So what? Why am I supposed to care about this? The campers aren’t there by choice, Elise is only there to run away from her problems, and it’s just a lingering childhood fantasy that’s keeping Maxine from growing up. And since the Ambiguously Offensive Duo is planning to make a computer camp out here, as opposed to a more reasonable location, it’s kind of implied that this computer camp WILL have outdoor activities. Because otherwise, what would be the point of building it out here? There is no good reason for Maxine to not step aside, let Jared have his way, and secure herself a job at the new camp.

Well, Maxine takes this challenge, and Elise summons her bearded sure thing over by flashlight. They deliver more of Mamrie’s badly written banter as she asks him to deliver letters to a camper and pretend they’re from her parents. Which totally won’t blow up in her face if the kid thanks her folks for the letters when she’s being picked up. They try to build some non-existent chemistry, but it’s thankfully interrupted when Maxine calls a meeting stating they need half the camp to preregister so they can afford to stay open. They need four times more prereges than last year, so… I wonder what their strategy is going to be?

We’re answered by a montage of them painting and nailing up a few boards, while otherwise going about life exactly as they did before, but with smiles, and with more things going right, because… Because timing, I guess? After Elise finally starts opening up to her campers, and doing nothing else of any importance other than flirting with HOLY SHIT I JUST REALIZED THIS GUY DIRECTED THE MOVIE! I guess that makes him the true villain, unlike Elise’s former boss, who has just called to say that not only has the leak of her affair quadrupled the sales of the books that her boy toy was doing movies for, but Elise’s terrible, terrible book has the potential to become a franchise. And I swear to god, if anybody’s buying a book about a Centaur being in love with the Loch Ness monster for non-ironic reasons, please grab a shotgun and go put those people out of their misery.  I mean, seriously, those two are so wrong for each other.  #TeamChupacabra

But there’s a catch… She has to go back home, right before the big event that’s supposed to save the camp! And since she’s done nothing of any substance to contribute to saving the camp, the choice between this event and her long term grown-up career should be an easy one, right? I mean, realistically, they have as much a chance with her as they would without her… Right? No, because instead of just pulling Maxine aside and calmly explaining why she has to leave… Like an adult… She tells her as awkwardly as she possibly can, and Maxine is no better. She takes it as an insult, for this girl she doesn’t need around as anything other than moral support to choose actual long term financial stability over some childhood escapism. Yeah, I get being sad when hearing news like this, but Maxine just becomes toxic with her selfish bullshit in this scene. I shouldn’t complain, though, as this scene does feature the best acting that the three of them do at any point in the movie. The emotions do come across as strong and genuine, and probably a little therapeutic for the actors as well but GOD is this melodramatic.

She asks Mr. Perfect for a ride back, and instead of being supportive and happy for her, he ALSO pulls the selfish bullshit on her. Yup. Found yourself a real catch, there. Doesn’t ask if you want to talk about it… Doesn’t try to make you feel better… Just pouts and runs away like a little bitch. Yeah, okay, I’m fine with male characters being portrayed as sensitive, but when the girl you’re falling in love with is hurt and crying and says something mean, you don’t take offense and just ditch her there.  That’s not something ANY guy would do, sensitive or not.  A sensitive guy would put aside his own feelings and be there for her.  Hope you have a nice future with the guy who’ll ditch you with all your kids, a shitty house and an overdue mortgage at the first sign of an insult.  There’s a point where this movie stops being boring and starts to become loathesome, and if the introduction of Dik and Dak a few scenes ago hadn’t tipped you off, we’re well into that territory by now.

Elise makes her way to a bus stop, where she’s about to leave, but a letter from the child she came here with… The one she played games with, and sent fake letters to… convinces her to go back. I don’t know how she gets back, as Chet drove her to the station, but she gets there in time for visitors day, where the kids look much happier in this montage than they did in the previous montage. See what difference a little effort can make? Like, REALLY little effort? A few new boards, Elise starts smiling, and all of a sudden they’re in a kids’ toothpaste commercial.

Maxine bickers with Jared, and her comebacks that he’s so obviously setting up are so familiar that I keep expecting her to ask if he eats pieces of shit for breakfast. She has the outstanding courage to call out his ‘prepared insults,’ when… Yeah… She’s the one who wrote them that way. Fuck, ALL of the insults in this movie sound prepared.  I will admit, though, I never thought the sight of someone flipping the ring finger instead of the middle finger would ever be funny. And I was right.

Elise joins her two besties on stage to perform a badly choreographed song that’s so lazy and poorly prepared that it makes my church’s pageants look like broadway, and we move onto final campfire, where Jared crashes the stage to announce his plans to the campers with all the finesse and subtlty of a WWE heel. God forbid he try to convince the campers that the computer camp would be a good idea… Which it kind of would be… He just acts like a self-absorbed dic and leaves, for two reasons. One, he needs to act entirely unlikable to make Maxine’s case look better, and two, because Mamrie doesn’t know how to write villains that aren’t one dimensional charicatures of outdated stereotypes. Maxine follows this up, and what she does… You know what? It’s too juicy. I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, Whatsisface is revealed to be some big shot author, no I’m not kidding about that, and he explains that the ghost that’s been barely mentioned up until this point is actually a metaphor for the spirit and love of camp. You can tell Mamrie wrote this, because I do believe I deserve a drink at this point. Elise’s former boyfriend pops out of some trees, having apparently walked all the way here from Chicago, which would make more sense if he’d acted at the beginning of the movie as though he had even the slightest bit of interest in her at all. They fight over her, because of course they do, perfect guy wins, and the next day, it’s revealed that pre-registration has more than quintupled compared to last year, all because the campers… And their parents… Got to see one of the counselors airing out her personal issues and making out with a guy right in front of them. Because that’s what they’re looking for in a camp… Inappropriate PDAs in front of their kids! Screw all the better, safer camps out there, let’s throw our kids into the hands of a camp where we got front seats to a white trash carnival!

Okay, you know what? This is one of the worst “Save our something-or-other” plots that I’ve ever seen, and that bucket does not have an easy bottom to reach. They go through almost no effort to turn things around, and yet they got their best numbers ever, which begs the question of how little effort they’ve been putting in up until now.

My favorite anime from 2014… And 2013… Was a show called Love Live, School Idol Project, and it had a very similar plot. The school our main characters go to is about to get closed down due to lack of applicants. But that school is an important part of their history, and they want future generations to be able to go there after they leave. So they decide to promote the school by becoming it’s very own Idol singing group. So, do they save it with one concert? No. They spend two seasons training, facing every possible setback you can imagine(for a PG rated show), and having the crap kicked out of them by fate at every turn. In spite of this, they continue pushing, moving forwards, and smiling, as theyre constantly threatened to be split up by forces both outside the group and within. Spoiler alert: They save the school at the end of season 2, and when they finally do, you know in your heart that they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to achieve it. Why? Because you saw them at their worst, working their asses off for even the slimmest of hopes.

Camp Takota doesn’t even try to do that. There are no stakes whatsoever at any point during this little conflict, and the fact that they were able to save their camp with a crappy stage show and a brazen display of inappropriate behavior is just insulting to me as a viewer.  But hey, it’s not fair to compare this movie to a 26 episode series that had time to develop everything thoroughly is it?  Well, how about 21 minutes?  There’s a Simpsons episode where a long over-looked burlesque house resurfaces in the public consciousness, and while moral outrage threatens it’s existence, the episode does a great job of illustrating the house’s importance to the town with just one musical number, and they still did it infinitely better than Camp Takota did.

Anyway, Elise has her new boyfriend, Maxine and Alison also find people to hook up with… Because that’s how character development works, I guess… And one year later, Elise is selling a book called Cabin Fever! Good for her. I really hope nobody makes a movie out of it, because this one was a total shit bomb.

This is one of the laziest, by-the-numbers movies that I’ve ever seen. It has no bite, no stakes, badly written dialogue that the writer herself probably got a good chuckle out of, and a non-sympathetic main character who runs away from her problems… Neither of which was her fault, of course… And then spent the rest of the film putzing around a camp while everything eventually works out for her through no fault of her own. She does nothing to resolve her shattered personal or professional lives, and yet they both come crawling back to her just to be rejected because she doesn’t need them anymore. She has no flaws that aren’t endearing, aside from her rotten attitude. I hate this phrase as much as the next guy, but holy crap is she a Mary-Sue. Hannah Hart is only there to be Hannah Hart, and while Mamrie does a decent job acting throughout the movie, Hannah and Grace just seem stifled and smothered by the idea of playing characters based on themselves while delivering material that somebody else wrote for them.

When it’s not boring, it’s stupid. When it’s not stupid, it’s derivative, ripping off Sliding Doors as well as a handful of Adam Sandler movies. Because that’s what you want to rip off… Adam Sandler movies. If you’re going to put together a half-assed script for the express purpose of getting paid to hang out with your friends, why not further the feminist cause by proving that women are just as capable as men at making cliched, predictable movies that are already the lowest common denominator of the comedy genre? Because the world really needed to know that.

I get that the movie was low budget… I do. I respect that. We can’t all have the resources we need if we can’t afford them. That’s why I’m willing to forgive all the product placements… Begrudgingly. But money doesn’t buy a good script. That’s something you can only afford with effort, imagination, and originality, which were three things this film never even came close to capturing. There’s a message about putting your electronic devices down and enjoying life the way it was meant to be enjoyed, with the outdoor world and face-to-face interaction, and I really do appreciate that message. It’s an important one, especially in this day and age, and more movies should try it out. But it gets confused by the fact that the only child Elise connected with… And the one who’s letter brought her back to camp… Was the kid she hid away and played video games with. Yeah, you’re not making a strong case for personal bonds above electronic devices when the only new bond your main character makes is over a freaking game boy.

Oh, and here’s the beautiful part. Remember earlier, when I said I’d be saving a juicy moment for later? Well, here it is. Maxine’s speech, after Dic & Dac left the stage, is an even more convincing argument for Jared’s take-over than even HE could deliver. She says that the exclusive nature of camp is important, and that it’s better to say “You had to be there” than to instantly share pictures and videos of camp experiences with friends. What she forgot to mention was that saying ‘you had to be there’ just makes you sound like a condescending douchebag. Yeah, that saying is right up there on the totem pole of “Shit eating grin phrases” just a few shades below “You probably haven’t heard of it.”

But on the other hand, setting up a 4g tower so the kids can connect with the civilized world sounds like a very efficient way to advertise the camp. When somebody says “You had to be there,” you look at them like they’re an asshole, and you drop the subject. If they show you a video, so you can see what you’re missing, it actually makes you want to experience it for yourself. I’m just saying, give these little anklebiters phones, let them do your advertising for you, and maybe next year you won’t be cunt deep in debt. But no, that would be a compromise… And Mamrie would much rather express the point of the movie by painting two extremes, and then pointing to the one she likes best and saying ‘this one is right.’ Yay, complexity.

Having finally seen this for myself, I honestly can‘t understand why people enjoy it. I guess they enjoy the novelty of seeing their favorite Youtube stars in a movie, a novelty that’s compounded by the fact that they’re basically playing themselves. I mean, that’s why Fred was successful, right? Well, I’ll admit that I get the appeal of Hannah, Grace and Mamrie a lot better than the ideal of Fred. And, like most of us, I still love the Holy Trinity… I love their shows, I love their comedy(When it’s improvisational), and I love the dedication that all three of them have for their fans. They’ve done so much in bringing us hours upon hours of entertaining material, and they’ve done some pretty awesome charity work as well. They seem like nice, awesome people who’d be great to hang out with in real life as well as in their videos.  But please, for the love of all things holy, don’t let them make another movie.


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