Camp Sawi opens in a whirlwind of emotions, its first few minutes showing us scenes from what appears to be a happy relationship. It then cuts to black and into its opening credits, and it allows us to hear the dissolution of that happiness. Bridgette (Bela Padilla) is trying to reach out to her ex, who is now engaged to another woman. She gets drunk, and she stumbles on to the website of Camp Sawi, a retreat for the brokenhearted. She goes there and meets other women in pain from failed relationships. While at first skeptical of the whole thing, she slowly opens up and begins the healing.
We get the other women: Gwen (Arci Muñoz), who gets drunk every night in spite of the camp's rules, Jess (Yassi Pressman), who is still very young and eager to make friends, Joan (Kim Molina), who is always in black and never talks to anyone, and Clarisse (Andi Eigenmann), who seems to be very put together. There's also the campmaster, Louie (Sam Milby), who seems to be courting the attentions of all the ladies at the camp. He is helpful to everyone, but his charms also present a source of conflict among some of the campers.
It is that last bit that feels the most questionable. The film itself questions his presence to some extent, but doesn't follow through enough on those questions to make his presence feel altogether welcome. He ends up feeling a bit like a walking plot device, the means through which both conflict and resolution are reached. The film is much more compelling as a document of different kinds of heartbreak, and the means by which people heal. The real strength of the film is in giving legitimacy to all kinds of pain, and resisting the easy platitudes that tend to come in the period after heartbreak.
The film doesn't offer a solution to heartbreak. It doesn’t tell any of its characters that they aren’t right to be feeling so bad, or that someone better will come along. It doesn't even really prescribe the camp as a means of getting over someone. Some good happens there, certainly, but the film is smart enough to know that these are all personal journeys, and there isn't a single piece of treatment or advice that fits everyone. And so, the film just loosely assembles scenes of these women going through what they're going through, every one of them gifted with the camera's sympathetic eye. In the worldview of the film, everybody hurts sometimes. And that's okay.
The film has a few odd editing quirks, but from scene to scene the direction is pretty great. The first five minutes of this movie are genuinely bracing, allowing the audience to quickly invest in a relationship before just taking it all away. It also helps that the cast is so game. Bela Padilla is terrific in the lead role, the actress able to lead us through every phase of the journey of her character. Arci Muñoz is really shaping up to one of the most entertaining actresses of her generation. Andi Eigenmann and Kim Molina probably don’t get the focus they deserve, but the actresses are able to sell the emotions even with more limited screen time.
Camp Sawi is pretty loosely constructed when all is said and done, but that’s all right. Because this film isn’t about a singular solution to pain that stems from a failed romance. It’s about embracing a multitude of experiences, and understanding that people go through things in different ways. There are some elements of this film that don’t quite fit that theme, and perhaps it would be a litter better off if it had managed to just skip all that. But there is also beauty in that mess, some measure of truth in understanding that there is nothing perfect about any of this.