The idea of month-long summer camps, involving toasting marshmallows and making friends with your bunkmates, feels like a distinctly North American idea. It’s not something that’s quite reached the shores of the UK and, for so many viewers, the only ‘experience’ you’ll ever have of summer camp is those which you have gleaned from the movies.
Films such as The Parent Trap, Camp Rock, Meatballs or Wet Hot American Summer have taught us that summer camps are places were rivalries are established and resolved; teenage crushes are made; outsiders become part of the gang. There may even be a song or two along the way. Sure, it’s twee but, on the whole, it has offered up light-hearted family entertainment and a glimpse into seasonal activities that don’t really take place here across the pond.
Mike Stasko’s Boys vs Girls is set primarily in the summer of 1990, in a non-descript Canadian wilderness, known as Camp Kindlewood. Attempting to provide a hearty dose of nostalgia – and hell, you probably will smile at the thought of freeze poles, British bulldogs and those uncomfortably tight plastic chokers – as well as a battle of the sexes, the film sadly relies of cliches and stereotypes and doesn’t quite pull off the preppy sarcasm it aims for.
Who’s Line is it Anyway‘s Colin Mochrie stars as the camp’s director, Roger, who must announce that “the men from corporate” have decided to make Camp Kindlewood co-ed. Up until this point, July had been an exclusively male camp and August had been just for girls. This means that, instead of ruling their respective roosts, camp leaders Dale (Eric Osbourne, who appears to be wearing a shade of foundation that is too light for his skintone) and Amber (Rachel Dagenais) will now have to work together.
And, gee shucks, won’t everyone just have to learn to get along. (You’d think that horny teenagers would enjoy the chance to mingle with the opposite sex, but not here).
The film relies on the premise that the boys of the camp are all gross bum scratchers who can’t stop burping whilst the girls are all shrieking overly-lipsticked personality vacuums who are obsessed with the power of their sexuality. The characters themselves are also relatively one-dimensional. There’s the man-hating goth who is obsessed with knives; the sensitive guitar player with fluffy hair; and the comedy fat guy. It could be the film’s relatively short 80 minute run time that prevents any development, but it could also just be lazy writing.
Setting up the titular divide is a series of crap pranks – stealing bras and cutting up hoodies. The humour very rarely goes beyond PG and, when it does, it’s jokes about boners and maxi pads that just feel icky as opposed to funny. The dialogue is also littered with meaningless one liners, such as the whole “sisters before misters” / “bros before hos” scene. Colin Mochrie’s superlative comedic talents are absolutely wasted here as, when he is given something to say, he just dithers and shouts, gesticulating wildly whilst looking pained. The Kids in the Hall‘s Kevin McDonald is also criminally underused as the alcoholic janitor, Coffee, who definitely shouldn’t be around children “or people”.
There are, however, some mildly amusing moments as the “suits from corporate” threaten to shut down the camp for being dysfunctional. The scene where the “suits” scrape the macaroni off a campers’ artwork or try to spoil their boating fun is quite funny. As is the subsequent scene where the campers gather for a rendition of ‘Morning Has Broken’ – complete with dance routines and the scattering of flowers – in order to assure the corporate team that the camp is the picture of harmony and teamwork.
But the laughs really are too few and far between. There are a few instances where characters address the camera directly with a knowing wink but it’s used too sparingly to be effective. It’s also really hard to tell if this film has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek – such as when Dale and Amber announce the upcoming montage – or if it’s playing things straight. If it’s the former, it’s not executed well enough and, if it’s the latter, then it’s just not that funny.
At 80 minutes, Boys vs Girls isn’t going to take up too much of your day. But there are other examples of summer camp movies that are far superior in terms of their comedic writing and storylines. Unfortunately, besides a few funny moments, it doesn’t have enough fresh material – in terms of the camp setting or the notion of a battle of the sexes – to feel worthwhile, even if the sight of crimped hair, pink lipgloss and frosted blue eyeshadow does make you fondly remember the follies of youth …
Boys vs Girls is now available on Amazon Prime Video.