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Be a man – ‘Man Camp’

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What does it mean to be a man?

Popular culture has mined a lot of humor from the exploration of that question. The notion of masculinity – particularly when pushed to its extremes – is ripe for parody and satire. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional concept of the masculine, though there’s certainly an argument that said traditionalism is old-fashioned to say the least.

But yeah – if you can find a way to embrace those expectations while also subverting them, you’re well on your way to getting some laughs.

“Man Camp,” a comedy directed by Nate Bakke from a script written by Daniel Cummings, Scott Kruse and Josh Long (the first two also star), digs into this oft-explored territory. It’s the tale of three young men whose lives have been defined by the too-soon loss of their manliest-of-manly-men father and their efforts to come to terms with the possibilities of finally moving on.

With a new man entering their mother’s life after so many years, the brothers take it upon themselves to put this suitor through a gauntlet of sorts, forcing him to prove himself worthy via the setting of the brothers’ annual tradition of gathering at camp to celebrate the memory of their father. It’s a funny, sometimes crude look at how we define manhood … and how that definition can change as we become men ourselves.

The Mann brothers idolized their father, a man writ large. His talents and tendencies marked him as the quintessential man, so tough that the only thing that could defeat him … was cancer. Since his passing, the three have made an annual tradition of venturing to the family cabin to spend a weekend reveling in fundamental guy-ness – a tradition they call “Man Camp.”

Man Camp weekend begins the same as usual. Adam (Daniel Cummings), the eldest Mann brother, is feeling some reservations about continuing the tradition, but his wife Katie (Anna Rubley) insists that he go. Reluctantly, he packs up and heads out to pick up middle brother Tim (Scott Kruse) from his frat house – Tim is seven years into his college career with no intention of stopping the party anytime soon. From there, it’s back to their childhood home, where they pick up youngest brother Kevin (Erik Stocklin), a nerdy type who still lives with his mom.

The trio heads up to camp, looking forward to the standard weekend of masculine debauchery. But there’s nothing standard about what they find there … or rather, who they find there.

It seems that their mother Theresa (Tammy Kaitz) got the dates confused and went to the camp herself for a romantic interlude with her new beau Alan (Pete Gardner). Horrified, the two elder Mann brothers lose their cool – Kevin already knew about Alan, though he neglected to share that information with his brothers. Alan is a very different type of man than their father; he’s a sensitive and quiet person, one lacking in many of the qualities traditionally considered masculine.

And so, the brothers hatch a scheme. They invite Alan to spend the weekend with them at camp, ostensibly to get to know him better, but the reality is that they intend to drive him away, ensuring that he never sees their mother again. Through a series of slapstick misadventures, the Mann brothers put Alan through his paces, leading him from danger to danger with little regard for his personal safety. It’s unclear whether any man would ever live up to the example set by their father, but the bros find a raft of reasons to believe Alan isn’t up to snuff. Of course, there’s more than one way to be a man, but that’s a lesson the Mann brothers will have to learn the hard way – if they can learn it at all.

Building a movie around celebrating masculinity is tricky business; with so much potential toxicity surrounding the subject, things could get unpleasant really quickly – this particular plot would seem to invite the possibility of misogyny, just for instance. Happily, this film instead chooses to lean on more surface-level tropes; it’s more about drinking beer and elaborate idiocy than anything else. There are a few feints in a darker direction, but for the most part, things stay mostly light.

“Man Camp” is fun. It’s not particularly sophisticated, relying as it does on sophomoric exchanges and exaggerated slapstick, but it’s all handled with good humor. There are a handful of moments where the seams show, but Bakke and company do solid work in finding ways to bring all the pieces together. Most of the time, the rough-and-ready nature of the production works in its favor, lending a lo-fi vibe that suits the story well enough. Oh, and there are a couple of flashes of over-the-top absurdity to spice things up.

The three Mann brothers make up the heart of the ensemble, with all three giving solid performances. Each finds their own variation on the theme of arrested development – Cummings struggling to find peace in his adult relationships, Kruse as the eternal college party animal, Stocklin delving into fantasy worlds and living at home – and builds toward character growth from their respective spots. All three have moments of genuineness sprinkled in with the goofiness. Gardner – a well-respected That Guy – has a great time as the genteel Alan, finding ways to tease out strength from within the character’s fundamental beta-ness. He’s the glue that holds it all together; the film is at its best when it’s him and the Mann boys. The film’s women – Kaitz, Rubley and Raleigh Cane (as former neighbor Christy Borders) – acquit themselves well, though the truth is that the film fully belongs to the four men at its center.

“Man Camp” is a shaggy, silly good time that also offers a surprising amount of heart. There are worse things than 90 minutes of brotherly shenanigans and slapstick absurdity. In the end, masculinity means different things to different people, but the simple truth is this: there’s more than one way to be a man.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:12

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