Meatballs (1979)


(director: Ivan Reitman; screenwriters: Len Blum/Daniel Goldberg/Janis Allen/Harold Ramis; cinematographer: Don Wilder; editor: Debra Karen; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Bill Murray (Tripper Harrison), Harvey Atkin (Morty), Kate Lynch (Roxanne), Russ Banham (Crockett), Kristine DeBell (A. L.), Sarah Torgov (Candace), Jack Blum (Spaz), Keith Knight (Larry Fink), Chris Makepeace (Rudy), Todd Hoffman (Wheels), Cindy Girling (Wendy); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Dan Goldberg; Sony Pictures; 1979-Canada)
“As easy to handle as drinking lemonade under a shady tree.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Childish but endearing summer camp romp that was a surprise box office smash and has since been considered a minor cult classic. It’s Bill Murray’s breakout role. The Canadian movie (filmed in the Canadian woods) was inspired by Animal House. Under Ivan Reitman’s (“Legal Eagles”/”Ghostbusters”/”Stripes”) direction, his first major film, it veers between gross-out comedy and sentimentality. Everyone heads to camp for a good time, which means contact with the opposite sex, athletic competition, a rivalry with a neighboring well-to-do camp and pranks.

Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray) is the charismatic unconventional head counselor of Camp North Face, who fills the movie with his high-charged energy and is the prime reason for its success. Rudy (Chris Makepeace) is the 11-year-old timid, unpopular loner who is befriended by Trip and pointed in the right direction of overcoming his social limitations. The rigid camp owner, Morty (Harvey Atkin), serves as foil for Trip’s pranks (such as placing a sleeping Morty in his bunk in the middle of a lake); Roxanne (Kate Lynch) is the counselor pursued by Trip who tries to fight him off for most of the movie until yielding to his irresistible charms; Tripper also is in charge of a group of misfit counselors-in-training — Spaz, Fink, Crockett, A.L., Candace, Wendy, and Wheels. Each of the meatballs is shown doing their own thing.

It’s harmless fun, low on sarcasm, that is gentle in its outlook and ends with the teenage campers bonding and ready to return to school supposedly the better for a fun-filled vacation in a reasonably priced camp. It’s all modestly entertaining and as easy to handle as drinking lemonade under a shady tree.

I thought the film’s funniest line had Murray say over the PA system “Attention campers! Arts and Crafts have been cancelled due to bad taste.”