Sunday, December 8, 2013
(June 1979, U.S.)
Would you believe that by the time MEATBALLS was released in the Summer of 1979, I was twelve years-old and had STILL not ever gone away to sleepaway camp?? This is what happens when you spend your childhood growing up in a beach house in the Hamptons; you miss out on other summer experiences. So until the time came that I actually did go away to camp for the first time at the age of fifteen, the only glimpse I had into that summer social world was through the first two FRIDAY THE 13TH films and this film MEATBALLS. The former example of slasher material aside, Bill Murray's crazy antics as camp counselor Tripper Harrison at Camp Northstar were a fantastic prelude to what I might or might not come to experience myself when I inevitably became a sleepaway camper in the near future.
As a young kid ready for the summer and ready for a good time, Tripper Harrison is exactly the kind of counselor we'd all likely want to have. He's young, he's crazy, he's mildly irresponsible and takes almost nothing too seriously. And yet, if you're a depressed and homesick kid away from your family for the first time, like Rudy Gerner (played by Chris Makepeace), he's just the kind of guy you want to be your friend and help you through the rough times. If you're a young and horny Counselor-In-Training (like I was!!), he's just the guy you'd like on your side when you're trying desperately to get somewhere with a girl. And if you want nothing more than to spend the summer tormenting the stiff-as-a-board-by-the-book camp director Morty Melnick ("Hi, Mickey!"), then Tripper's your man, for sure! There are things they all do to poor Morty that even baffles myself! Just how DO they get that bed of his all the way up into a tree without waking Morty?? I've heard of light sleepers, but geez!!
Now despite Camp Northstar being a place of pure zaniness, the film is not about to let its audience get away without sending out some sort of viable message of love, friendship, lessons learned and an ultimate victory for the underdogs. As pure forms of cliché are concerned, everything you might expect in a light-hearted summer camp story like this is here; kids who might not have liked each other during the camp's off-season become friends in the end, the wild and crazy counselor who can seemingly go through girls like a revolving door actually learns to love in the end, and most of all, the lonely, depressed kid Rudy finally triumphs in the end by winning the big running race that wins camp Northstar the entire Olympiad against their arch, cheating rivals on the other side of the lake, Camp Mohawk. Yes, in the end, it's all fine and beautiful...maybe too beautiful. What I mean is that when watching MEATBALLS, I'm doing my best to keep in mind that this is supposed to be a wacky comedy at heart. So it would be much easier to do so if there weren't these periodic soft and sappy songs during the story that are supposedly meant to bring a touch of heartwarming goodness to the whole thing. Seriously?? Does heartwarming goodness belong in a movie called MEATBALLS?? Consider that question and consider the same reason why John Belushi smashes that guitar against the wall in ANIMAL HOUSE when Stephen Bishop begins to sing about giving his love a cherry!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tripper Harrison: "And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose! IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER!!"