By Marc S. Sanders
Director Ivan Reitman with Bill Murray and writer Harold Ramis made a fantastic team. Their summer camp comedy, Meatballs, from 1979 is not one of the all-time greats but it’s still a fun romp through the life of young campers peddled off under the supervision of teen counselors for eight weeks.
Meatballs works as an excuse to allow Bill Murray to break free from his SNL restraints and allow his off the cuff humor to improv its way through. As the head counselor named Tripper, Murray gives hilarious loudspeaker announcements about the cafeteria lunch or daily activities. He also uses his CITs, with names like Spaz, Crockett and Fink to carry Morty (“Hi Mickey!”) the camp manager who’s sleeping in his bunk out into the woods, or the lake or high up in a tree for his morning wake up surprise. This is all Animal House lite.
A touching secondary story involves a lonely teen camper named Rudy (Chris Makepeace) to bond with Tripper. Though I enjoyed my summer camp days, I was much like Rudy, not an athlete. I was a fast runner though, and Tripper with the Bill Murray personality builds Rudy’s confidence during the film leading up to the climactic inter camp big race. It’s not necessarily a well-rounded storyline. It tidies itself up pretty neatly by the end, but it’s a break from the material shenanigans, in between. Look, even a film like Meatballs needs some semblance of story somewhere.
The fun comes in brief skits with Meatballs. There’s sing along songs like “Are You Ready For The Summer?” and the campfire favorite “We’re The North Star CITs!” There’s the hot dog eating contest, Spaz’ spoon water relay and the basketball game against the wealthy, neighboring camp who can’t keep their shorts up.
Meatballs is a movie that would be shot with better quality on an iPhone today, but the dated camp days of the late ‘70s remain cherished here, before we became reliant upon technology. It’s a time where we depended on the outdoors, without mom and dad, and getting into harmless trouble while making new friends and discovering our freedom and ourselves.
The original Meatballs still has some material that’s worth a watch, and it still makes me yearn for my cabin bunk days. It’s nice to reminisce and it’s all just fun.