Continuing on my journey to re-experience the movies and entertainment that filled my adolescent years, it’s time to go to camp! Meatballs is one of those movies that must have had heavy replay on HBO, because I know I watched it dozens of times. The target audience is teenage kids, and since I’m way outside that demographic now, my opinions of the movie have certainly changed. Now, I have kids who are about the same age as I was when I saw it, so viewing the movie from a parent’s point of view is quite different, so let’s get to it!
When I was 12 years old, my parents shipped me off to summer camp eight states away, where I stayed in a cabin with seven other boys and a counselor for two months. I could definitely relate to the events and feelings this movie evoked — the homesickness especially. Parts of summer camp were great memories that I cherish to this day, but other parts SUUUUUUUCKED.
Meatballs is kind of like a kid-friendly version of Animal House, another Ivan Reitman movie. The movie is about a low-rent summer camp filled with underdogs and societal rejects without much ambition other than maybe hooking up before summer’s end. Bill Murray plays Bill Murray (the character is actually named “Tripper”) and the movie is directed by Ivan Reitman. Those two would go on to work together on little projects such as Ghostbusters and Stripes.
Meatballs is filled with a cavalcade of characters that we can all relate to — I was once a Rudy, and strived to be a Tripper, but now I am a Morty. sigh. I remembered this movie being much raunchier than it was, maybe crossing wires in my memory with other movies from the time. It’s got just enough taboos to make it feel like your parents would be mad if they caught you watching it, but it’s actually fairly sweet and sentimental, and is a good film for those kids who might fall in the “freaks & geeks” columns.
There are plenty of elements that charge right up to the edge of inappropriateness, but for the most part, don’t go over the cliff. There is one scene though that will probably prevent this movie from being played on any network TV station anytime soon. Throughout the movie, Tripper playfully tries to “seduce” one of the other counselors, who doesn’t seem too interested in a relationship. At one point, this seduction turns into a playful wrestling match where the female character cries out for him to stop several times and clearly says “No!” The lead counselor comes in and the “hijinks” come to an end, but there’s no telling what might have happened if he didn’t show up. It was tough to watch in this “Me Too” age of ours. Not to excuse it, but I’m sure I’ll be saying this in many of my reviews this summer: times were different back then.
The main plot line of the movie centers around a homesick camper (Rudy) who can’t make any friends. Tripper takes him under his wing, hangs out with him, plays cards, etc. If a grown man did this with a 13-year old boy today, he would no doubt be seen as a pedophile grooming his next victim. I kind of miss the days when adults could actually be alone with kids without the worst being assumed, but those days are probably gone for good. Clearly, in this movie, the relationship did wonders for the kid and boosted his confidence to the point where he ended up as the hero of the camp.
At the end of the movie, the CIT’s (counselors in training) get together for a final bonfire and sing their song. I sang along as I still remember every word all these years later:
We are the C.I.T.s so pity us.
The kids are brats; the food is hideous.
We’re gonna smoke and drink and fool around.
We are the North Star C.I.T.s!
Random thoughts while watching:
- That title screen is probably the lowest budget effect I’ve ever seen.
- Those shorts are really short.
- The actors in this movie are so ordinary! Even the “babes” are fairly average. When did movies switch to feature only gorgeous, plastic non-humans?
- This movie triggered some serious summer camp PTSD for me.
- Do kids still play “shirts & skins?”
- The basketball game with Camp Mohawk summed up being a kid pretty well.
- I loved the “It just doesn’t matter” speech. It’s perfect for today’s society where everyone gets a trophy.
- Rudy is played by Chris Makepiece, who went on to star in another one of my forgotten childhood favorites, “My Bodyguard,” with Adam Baldwin. I’m going to have to track down a copy of that movie for a review!
Rewatching this movie was a bit shaky at first, and it felt pretty dated, but after a while, I kind of felt myself being transported to my awkward teenage self and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. When I first viewed this movie as a kid, I could relate to the young campers, while watching it yesterday, I was clearly seeing it from the counselors’ point of view — I am now Morty. My younger self may have laughed much harder, but I still chuckled at a few of the scenes.
This summer, I am going back to the 70’s and 80’s with the Cool, Cool, Cool Summer 2019. Follow along and let me know if there’s something you think I should revisit.