The joy of watching a comedy comes from its unexpected nature.
We laugh when we’re surprised by a well-timed joke, or from an unexpected pratfall, or when an outrageous situation arises. To that end, this review won’t spoil the comedy to be found in Family Camp.
But take it from my six-year-old son, with whom I co-wrote this movie review. Barely a few minutes into the film, he turned to me and said, “This is definitely already getting funny.”
He was right about that.
However, as the movie progressed, he was right about much more—much to my detriment.
What is Family Camp about?
Family Camp, the first feature-length movie from The Skit Guys, is a faith-based, family-friendly comedy that follows the plights of the Ackerman and Sanders families during their stay at a summer church camp. The driving conflict involves winning the Camp Katokwah Trophy, but deeper and more meaningful conflicts emerge as the movie progresses.
If you’re familiar with the decades-long work of The Skit Guys, it should come as no surprise that this film is chiefly a comedy. But there’s heart to it, and a few pointed messages. Somehow, The Skit Guys made a movie that is simultaneously overboard at moments and yet sincere on the whole.
The film is one part The Parent Trap: the families are forced to room together. It’s also The Odd Couple: in the second act, the dads must learn to deal with each other’s wildly divergent personalities. And it’s a dash of Caddyshack, for reasons you’ll understand after seeing the movie.
Family Camp is a distinctly Christian film in both its message and its humor, with jokes about Dave Ramsey, essential oils, evolution, Billy Graham, and a barely audible mention of a “smokin’ hot mother.” Slapstick comedy also abounds. If there’s an opportunity for a head to be hit—by a frisbee, a log, or nearly anything else—it will be hit.
But Family Camp is not a Christian movie in the pejorative sense. The film had opportunities to veer into the banal sentimentality or spiritual cliches that tend to mar specifically Christian films. Yet the story stayed focused on its compelling (and sometimes quirky) characters. The snappy editing moved the plot along. And, as with better comedy movies, its serious moments are sprinkled throughout, adding just enough weight to provide a meaningful foundation to a story that exists first to make you laugh and then to make you feel.
This shouldn’t be surprising: as the real-life Tommy and Eddie said in their interview on The Denison Forum Podcast (which you may watch below), their ministry has always been about “humor, heart, and him [God].
“What is Family Camp really about?
The film wastes little time in getting to the heart. An early scene lays bare a central conflict: When they first arrive at Camp Katokwah, Grace Ackerman tells her workaholic husband, Tommy: “I need you to be here with me.”
Tommy (played by Tommy Woodard) loves golf and works hard to provide for his family but is distant from them, even when he’s with them. Later, he also admits to his pastor, “I think God and I are OK . . . Church is another thing on my list.”
Disclaimer: I am a dad who loves golf and works hard to provide for his family. I can also be distant even when present. And I can attest to sometimes considering church as just another thing on my to-do list.
During a scene when the families are roasting marshmallows, Tommy wears a powder-blue quarter-zip pullover—golfer attire. When my son saw that, he asked me, “Did you act in this?”
I was, in fact, at that very moment, wearing the exact quarter-zip as Tommy.
As if I hadn’t already felt convicted.
Throughout the film, Tommy fights the urge to answer his phone to “close a big work deal.” After one such call on-screen, my son told me, “He’s exact same person as you, on a bunch of calls and stuff.”
Dads, you’ve been warned.
The messiness of life
However, Tommy isn’t the only one with problems.
Eddie Sanders (played by Eddie James) and his wife, Victoria, appear like a loving, Christian family, but all is not well behind the scenes. After one scene in which Victoria opens up to Grace, my son told me to “put ‘sad’ on there,” referring to our notes for this movie review.
When Tommy and Eddie eventually fight each other in a lake, my son said, “Put ‘mean story’ on there.”
And when the husbands make a grand escape in the surprising third act, my son said this movie “is gonna make you stressed out.”
Sad. Mean. Stress.
What I take from his simple, unvarnished review is that Family Camp captures life in its fallen mess. We cry with each other. We get mad at each other. We endure stressful situations. And yet we can laugh with each other.
My son may understand Ecclesiastes better than I do: there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:4).
In the final act, Tommy and Eddie become literally lost in the woods. Then they have a rather unique mountaintop experience. When Tommy and Eddie are forced to work together to get back to the camp, Tommy speaks the change he knows he needs to make: “I need to find true north.”
His resolution isn’t surprising, but it is necessary.
Is Family Camp good?
Ultimately, Family Camp will make families laugh.
It may also be a conduit for hard conversations between husbands and wives who’ve found themselves unintentionally drifting apart over time.
And it may help some viewers reconnect with God.
For such a broad comedy, that is an unexpected joy.