How many people remember going to summer camp and participating in crazy hi-jinks and meeting hot camp counselor women? Me neither. Although I have gone to summer camp, when I was younger, it was a Christian summer camp, in which I generally ignored the "teachings" and was more focused on having fun, that was probably the closest I ever got to living the "Meatballs" life.
It wasn't anything fancy, we had cabins that were separated into the boys and girls cabins, we did the normal campfire stories and sing-a-longs, swam in the pool and hiked and what not. But the best thing about this camp was the 40-foot slide that we got to ride down. We were given burlap sacks and we had to trek up numerous amounts of stairs for the 10 seconds (or less) of high-speed frantic fun while trying to land gracefully.
When we went on our nature hike, it was only a few minutes outside of the camp and everyone had their own wooden deck to sleep on. There must have been fifty of them or so. When we settled in, that's when the counselors would tell their campfire stories. One of them being a horror story which scared everyone and of course, we all couldn't sleep that night for fear of the big Yeti type creature coming to get us. At least, I was pretty sure that we were all going to die that night or be dragged off and turned into Yeti/Sasquatch poop.
But, summer camp was not like what was in the movies. It was boring, trivial, mostly they had us doing stuff that we really didn't want to do. What happened to playing pranks on the camp director, learning how to box or boat or fish. We didn't get any of that. We got to finger paint, make wallets or other crafts and do Christian things (not that that was bad, just not my cup of tea). Again boring.
So when I watch a movie like Meatballs, I often wonder what it would have been like to go to a normal summer camp. Would it have been the same? Would Bill Murray be there? Would I have still had a wet dream and woke up thinking I pissed the bed? Well, to answer that last question, probably. That really did happen.
Meatballs is a comedy about a low rent summer camp - Camp North Star. Bill Murray stars as Tripper Harrison the head of a group of Counselor's In Training at Camp North Star, a cheap summer camp that all the working class kids go to for the summer. Murray is the jokester of the group, the merry prankster who usually takes his pranks out on the camp director Morty played by Harvey Atkin. The pranks usually involve placing Morty in various places around the area while he's still sleeping in bed, like on the side of the road, floating on a raft, or in a hammock in the trees, complete with his nightstand beside him.
But the movie focuses more on Rudy, a loner Dottie, a rebel. Rudy. played by Chris Makepeace, is the guy that is out of place at the camp. He has no friends there, he doesn't want to be there and he doesn't care. While everyone is having fun and doing activities, Rudy is usually in the background just kicking around. Trip notices this and takes him under his wing, to open him up to new things and meet people and have fun. There's only so much time one can have as a kid, so enjoy every moment.
Rudy, in turn, helps Trip with his love life, by getting Trip to talk to one of the counselor's Roxanne, played by Katie Lynch. Even though these two star-crossed lovers have had a past, Murray, instead of being the typical prankster/jokester, gets serious in moments of the movie to win her over. Which brings everything together for the big finale. The rivalry between Camp North Star and rich Camp Mohawk, where all the jocks seem to go.
Every year for the past 12 years, Camp Mohawk has beat North Star in the annual summer games, but SPOILER ALERT!, That's about to change. To spare you the details, North Star beats Mohawk, in the final game, the marathon, between Rudy and some other guy. Because Rudy is smaller and lighter, he's able to get around obstacles and move quicker than his competition and Rudy, the loner, ends up being the big hero of the movie.
Why is this movie good? Bill Murray for one. This was his first starring role and even though it is predictable with an average script, Ivan Reitman stays away from the T and A just for the sake of showing boobs and keeping it clean, because it doesn't have to. This movie works because of the interaction between Murray and Makepeace and Murray and Atkin and Murray and Lynch. This movie wouldn't have worked without Bill Murray in the role. If you put Belushi or Chevy Chase or any of those other SNL or SCTV guys in there, it wouldn't have worked or been as good in my opinion.
With this being Murray's first movie, you would have thought that he would have just taken the easy path through Hollywood, but as you can see throughout his career, Murray likes to take on different challenges and make movies that he enjoys (or take parts in series). When you look at his career, it's all over the map with his acting decisions and that's what makes Murray one of the best out there.
If you're looking to do a Bill Murray Movie Marathon, add this to your binge-watching weekend, you won't be disappointed.
PG | 1h 34min | Comedy | 29 June 1979 (USA)
Wacky hijinks of counselors and campers at a less-than-average summer camp.
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg (as Dan Goldberg), Harold Ramis
Stars: Bill Murray, Harvey Atkin, Kate Lynch