January 5, 2013

Meatballs (1979)
Starring Bill Murray and Chris Makepeace

These are the camp rules.  They'll be in here if you want to check them out later.

Comments:  If you were to ask people my age who the coolest actor is of our generation, a lot of people wouldn't even think twice before they answered "Bill Murray."  After all, stories of Murray being awesome in real life are found practically all over the internet.  Do a google search sometime on Bill Murray and awesome, and see how many stories you can find of him just showing up at some random guy's party and partying with everyone.  Or of him just showing up at some bar unannounced and paying for everyone's drinks.  Or how he practically ad libs every movie he is in and he doesn't like to work with a script.  In fact, I don't think that in my 38 years of life on this Earth, I have ever someone my age say "You know who I don't like?  I don't like Bill Murray."  He is one of those actors that practically everyone loves.

Bruce Lee, patron of self defense, pray for us

Now, if you wanted to see the coolest actor alive at the very peak of his coolness, most people would agree that you want to go watch his stuff from the late 70's/early 80's.  You would want to watch him on SNL.  You would want to watch him in Caddyshack.  You would want to watch him in Stripes.  In fact, I would guess that practically any Bill Murray fan alive would agree that Stripes and Caddyshack (and maybe Ghostbusters too) are the pinnacle of Bill Murray in his cool smarmy awesome years.

However, there was another Bill Murray movie in that time period too.  And sadly, although it was once a big hit, it is a movie that you rarely ever hear about anymore.

It is Meatballs.  And in my opinion, Bill Murray was never any cooler or more awesome than he was in Meatballs.

The Swiss trained him to kill and he knows how to do it

Meatballs is the story of a summer camp.  And really, that is about it.  It is the story of Camp North Star, located somewhere in Canada.  And it stars a bunch of nobody Canadian actors doing predictable meaningless summer camp things.  Honestly, there isn't one distinct thing I can tell you about ninety percent of the actors in the movie.  They all just look like random forgettable 70's people.

Oh yeah, and then there is Bill Murray right in the middle of it.  Which, in the grand scheme of things, is like throwing Babe Ruth into the lineup of a 12 year old little league team.  To say that Bill Murray carries the movie is like saying that Charlie Sheen has a slight problem with substance abuse.

In fact, there may have never been another movie in movie history that was carried by one person as much as Meatballs was carried by Bill Murray.

By the way, five important trivia facts about Meatballs.

The first important trivia fact is that this was Bill Murray's first movie.  He was fresh off of his success on SNL, and this was his big transition into becoming a movie star.  And when the movie turned out to be a big hit, well at that point the sky was the limit.  Caddyshack came soon, and so did Stripes.  And then he got Ghostbusters.  Bill Murray was already a comedy movie legend by the year 1984.

The second trivia fact about Meatballs is one that I have always loved.  Apparently Bill Murray never actually signed a contract to star in this movie.  Because, well, because Bill Murray doesn't have an agent and because he doesn't sign contracts.  Most of the times when he stars in a movie, he just makes a gentlemen's agreement to show up and then he shows up.  So when he signed on to do Meatballs, the producers weren't one hundred percent sure if he was actually going to show up or not.  In fact they weren't sure he was actually even in the movie until THE DAY THEY STARTED FILMING.  That was when Murray finally arrived on set, and the Hawaiian shirts he wears in the movie were from his own wardrobe.  Which just backs up my old theory that Bill Murray is an f'ing badass.

The third thing that I would like to point out about Meatballs is that even though it has a reputation for being a raunchy R-rated summer camp sex comedy, it really isn't.  It is actually a very gentle, very sweet... in fact it is almost a family movie.  So don't write off a movie like this just because it takes place at summer camp and because summer camp movies are dumb.  Meatballs isn't dumb, and it isn't raunchy.  It is actually one of the sweeter and most good natured movies you are ever going to see.  There really isn't even all that much profanity in it.

The fourth thing I would like to point out about Meatballs is the fact that Bill Murray practically ad libbed the entire movie.  Remember at the beginning when I said that Bill Murray rarely ever uses a script?  Well that was certainly the case in Meatballs.  I heard the producers joking about it on the DVD commentary.  Bill Murray showed up on set, the producers gave him a general idea what the movie was, and what the story was all about, and he said okay I will take it from here.  So he practically ad libbed every single line in every single scene in the movie.  Now that is a comedy god.

Oh, and the fifth thing I would like to mention about Meatballs?

Well this is the movie that introduced the world to Chris Makepeace, of course.  Who I like to call one of the greatest teenage actors of all time.  Chris Makepeace never made a bad movie in his brief but brilliant career, and at no point in his career was he more perfect than he was in Meatballs.

Any movie with Chris Makepeace in it was awesome

Meatballs isn't the greatest movie in the world, and it certainly wasn't trying to win an Academy Award.  But it is a movie that is very sweet, and is very memorable, and at one time it was very popular and it was loved by a lot of people.  And then for some reason in the late 80's or early 90's it just sort of disappeared.  Nowadays you hear people talking about how Bill Murray was awesome in Caddyshack, and how awesome he was in Stripes, but you never ever EVER hear people talk about how awesome he was in Meatballs.  And that is a shame.  Because Meatballs was a fantastic movie for its time, it is a movie I must have seen a hundred times on TV when I was a kid growing up, yet these days hardly anyone even remembers it.  

And if they do remember it, they usually remember something like "Hey wasn't there a Meatballs 2 and a Meatballs 3 and a Meatballs 4?  And weren't they all direct to video pieces of shit?"

Well yes.  Yes they were.  But Meatballs the original didn't have anything to do with the rest of them.  And Bill Murray and Chris Makepeace were only in the first one.

And Spaz too.  We mustn't forget about Spaz.

Or Larry

In short, if you want to give a random movie from the 70's that you never seen a chance, you can't really do much better than Meatballs.  It is a sweet, good natured, feel good summer camp comedy that really doesn't even feel like it is a movie.  When you watch it it really feels more like a documentary.  It feels like they plopped down a bunch of cameras at Camp North Star in Canada, and then they brought Bill Murray into town and they told him to have fun with everyone.  And then they just started rolling the cameras and recorded what happened.  Because nearly every single person in this movie (yes even Murray) feels like he belongs at a summer camp.  Everything and everyone just seems natural and authentic.

Bill Murray chilling with a bunch of Canadian kids

Like I said before, I have probably seen Meatballs more than one hundred times in my life.  It is one of those movies that was ALWAYS on in the background in the Lanza house.  My brother and I used to quote it endlessly.  And that wasn't really even all that hard to do, since I can think of very few movies that are as quotable as Meatballs.  All it is is Bill Murray goofing around with Canadian kids, making friends with and mentoring Chris Makepeace, and spouting off random one liners for 90 minutes.  Oh and imploring everyone at camp that "it just doesn't matter."

Really, what more do you want from a movie than that?

"The real excitement, of course, will come at the end of summer during Sexual Awareness Week. We import 200 hookers from around the world and each camper, armed with only a thermos of coffee and $2000 in cash, tries to visit as many countries as he can. And the winner, of course, is named King of Sexual Awareness Week and is allowed to rape and pillage the neighboring towns until camp ends."

Postscript:  By the way, when I introduce people to a movie like Meatballs, one of the comments that they often have is that "the movie is dated."  Or, "it is too distracting to watch because it was made in the 70's."  Well no shit.  Of course it is going to be dated.  What do you expect from what is basically a documentary of a Canadian summer camp starring real Canadian kids in 1978?  In fact I can think of very few movies aside from maybe science fiction movies that are NOT in some way "dated."  When you watch a movie like this, don't think of it as dated, think of it as a time capsule.  Think of it as a single moment in time (1978) that was frozen and the fashion, the people, the dialogue, and the music were preserved on film for all of eternity.  In other words, dated isn't bad, dated just means authentic.  "Dated" can often be good.

However, those short shorts are dated

* My favorite Meatballs quotes (there really are a ton of these, Murray just fires off one liners all movie):

Tripper [on loudspeaker]: Attention. Here's an update on tonight's dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight's mystery meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin who guessed "some kind of beef."

Wendy: Tripper, I'm looking forward to some action this summer. I hope you can supply it.
Tripper: I'll supply it for you, but the guy you gotta watch out for is Spaz.
Wendy: Spaz?
Tripper: He's a sex machine.
Wendy: He couldn't wake me up with a trumpet and a drum!
Tripper: Well I went out with him one night and he got off six nurses by himself, and four of them couldn't report to work the next morning.

Tripper: [on loudspeaker] Attention all campers, it's 9:30... and that's lights-out time here at Camp Northstar, 9:30 as you know. Tomorrow is parents day, and you must look rested or Morty will be sent to the state penitentiary.

Rudy: I saw you dancing with Roxanne.
Tripper: Oh yeah? Well, she sort'a cornered me and there was nothing I could do without embarrassing her.
Rudy: Do you like her?
Tripper: Well I feel sorry for her, you know. She's got a glass eye. And, uh, I'm one of the few people who knows exactly which eye to look at when they're talking to her, so she's sort of fixated on me.
Rudy: Well, I like her.
Tripper: Well you're not exactly known for your taste. I'll probably just use her for the rest of the summer and then throw her on the scrap heap with all the rest of the women that I've destroyed.

Tripper: [on loudspeaker]: Attention campers, afternoon swim schedule is as follows. Advanced dolphins, report to the dock for survival swimming and I.Q. testing. All senior silverfish, meet on the beach for nude sunbathing. All junior salmon, trout, and herring, report to the nearest delicatessen. 6-year-old tadpoles, report to the swamp. And all lobsters, GET OUT OF HERE! YOU'RE A MENACE!

Tripper [on loudspeaker]: Important announcement - Some hunters have been seen in the woods near Piney Ridge trail and the fish and game commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three. So, if you're hiking today, please wear something bright and keep low.

Tripper: Kids are starving in India and you're walking around with a sombrero full of peanuts.

Morty: The name's Morty, not Mickey.

[after Tripper tells a scary ghost story about a killer with a hook for a hand]
Jackie: It's true. I heard it before.
Wendy: Yeah.
Jackie: Only I heard it was on a beach.
Wendy: Yeah.
Hardware: No, I heard it happened at a park.
Spaz: Oh, I heard it, but the guy was missing a foot.
Larry: How could the guy have a hook on his foot!?

* My favorite IMDB trivia about Meatballs:

According to one of the featurettes on the DVD, several of the shots in the movie were added after initial filming ended. These included the scenes of Rudy and Tripper at the bus station and of them playing blackjack for peanuts. During the time off, Chris Makepeace had entered puberty and had the beginnings of a mustache. Bill Murray decided that it had to go so he took Makepeace over to a sink, lathered him up with soap and shaved off his mustache. So Chris received his first shave from Bill Murray.

According to the DVD commentary, scenes of the first day of camp were the first day of actual shooting for Bill Murray. He was signed to do the film at the last minute because of his commitment to Saturday Night Live. His outfit, the Hawaiian shirt and red shorts, were his own clothes that he showed up on set with.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Meatballs

Why do all the movie critics miss the boat on this? - 9 October 2011
I'm pleased to see so many good comments on this movie here. What I don't get is that Meatballs is always advertised as this kind of bawdy, teen sex comedy when you see a write up on it. Even IMDb in its description goes there.

Meatballs is really not that kind of movie. It is a very sweet little film about a bunch of misfits who find that they are not so bad after all. It also is the story of how one boy goes from outcast to hero after he is taken under the wing of a caring counselor.

Sure there are jokes and highjinks, and a few teenage sexual references, but nothing over the top and they are all characteristic and true to form for summer camps.

I love this movie. I loved when I was a kid, and I love it still today, and think it should almost be mandatory viewing for any young kid who feels like an outsider.

The Original Summer Camp Comedy..........Classic Bill Murray! -  23 July 2007
The plot is predictable. It has been done many times in other movies. You have competing summer camps in this one: the rich kids vs. the underachievers competing for "bragging" rights in the typical camp contests, while the kids and consolers pursue pranks, sex, and "a good time!" "Are You Ready For The Summer?" Meatballs is the first (and best) summer camp movie for feel-good comedy. As others have posted, it's no Citizen Kane, but this type of movie isn't meant to be. The film works because of the wonderful comic timing and classic one-liners of Bill Murray. His scenes with a camper where he tries to raise the kid's self-esteem are very good. Bill's one-liners throughout the film are very funny.

I also like that this movie isn't dirty or explicit like so many other "teens at camp" movies today. There is some mild sexual innuendo and maybe one or two cuss words in the entire film. But Meatballs is the type of teen movie that is actually appropriate for the younger crowd. It's rated PG.

This is a movie that you have to see a few times to get all of the jokes! When Bill Murray is on the screen or making one of his classic "PA Announcements" you are drawn to the film. Bill seems to carry the movie all by himself. But he does it so well, that when you see Meatballs, you will realize that this is the film that made him a star! A side note to this review is to avoid ALL of the Meatball movie sequels. They are horribly bad.

Murray makes it work. - 17 June 2007
Luckily for Bill Murray this is such a light-weight project since he pretty much has to carry it. Meatballs is the story of low-rent Camp Northstar and how its counselors deal with the campers as well as one another. Then there is much made of their wealthy rivals from across the lake named Camp Mohawk which culminates in a two-day Olympiad competition. Above it all is Bill Murray clowning around and making a pretty memorable film debut.

The film is sprinkled with medium-sized laughs, chuckles, and more than a few guffaws along the way. The biggest laughs come from the pranks played on the nerdy camp director. Three of them involve the counselors moving his bed outside in various locations while he's sleeping. Morty, or "Micky" as everyone calls him, wakes up along the side of a road, strung up in some trees several feet above the ground, and finally floating on a raft in the middle of the lake! There are also some funny moments involving the counselors hitting on one another, but this is a PG rated film with little in the way of raunchiness.

The film takes a serious note involving a shy camper named Rudy who is played by Chris Makepeace. Of course it's up to Murray to teach the kid how to open up, and give him the confidence he needs to run a marathon during the Olympiad. The sentimentality of Rudy's situation seems tacked on to a great degree. Notice how when Murray first sees the kid sitting alone in the grass after getting off the bus he tells him, "you must be the short depressed kid we ordered." Makes you wonder if that line was really in the script or Murray was just ad-libbing while the cameras were rolling. In other words, Murray might as well have said to Makepeace, "you must be that actor we hired to play the stereotypical lonely kid you see in most summer camp films who doesn't fit in." But before it's all over, Murray's performance makes this plot device more than bearable. He really seems to have some good chemistry with Makepeace.

The film culminates with the games between the two rival camps. Very little of the events we are shown are even slightly believable, but "it just doesn't matter". This is a pretty good film on many levels. Don't let the absurd 5.6 rating this film is currently getting scare you off. Murray will keep you laughing throughout. Just be warned..... avoid the sequels!!!! Especially the one with Corey Feldman!! 8 of 10 stars.

A comedy classic - 1 August 2004
"Rattlesnake! Look out!" "Is that a bra you're wearing or are you expecting an assassination attempt?" "Spaz, what are you a homo or what?!" "OK way to go you guys! feed Fink, he's our hot man" "Do you know they use the most sophisticated training methods from the Soviet Union, East & West Germany and the newest Olympic power, Trinidad-Tobago." "Oh Spaz you old make-out master!" "What, no mustard?!" "Oh my God his nose is bleeding.  Iit's gonna get even bigger now" "Our political roundtable...Henry Kissinger will appear. Yassir Arafat is gonna come out, spend a weekend with the kids just rap with them."

These and many other great lines make Meatballs a hall-of-fame comedy. Only in Caddyshack is Bill Murray funnier. He probably ad-libbed half the lines. The high school actors seemed to have a blast being in the same movie with him.

Hilarious movie to watch any time of year, not just the summer.

Terrific film!! - 28 June 2004
I love Meatballs! Terrific characters and poignant situations make this one dearly loved. Bill Murray is hysterical and you gotta love that 4-mile trail race at the end! A total classic and one of my favorites now for about 20 years. It brings back fond memories of camp and deals nicely with the experience of being rejected by foolish peers and the empowerment brought one by being rescued by a sympathetic adult. Tons of great one-liners and quite an assortment of wacko counselors. This is the kind of movie where you repeat key phrases among friends for years afterward. Also nothing overtly crude and what a sweet late '70's soundtrack to bring on just the right amount of nostalgia. I can't say enough about Meatballs; it's a classic. Be forewarned! All the sequels are putrid stink bombs that simply bought the name rights for marketing. They have no connection to Ivan Reitman's masterpiece.

This is one of my all-time favorite films - 21 January 2002
'Meatballs' is a nice and surprisingly, bittersweet film. It remains every bit as fresh, funny and entertaining as the day it was first released. Forget the sleazy in-name only "sequels". This is the one-and-only, the original. It is a very good-natured and uplifting film. It makes and leaves you feeling good, but a little bit sad when it is over. It perfectly captures the experiences of being a kid, summer camp, camping and growing-up. It also captures just as well the memories made by making friends and having a good time and the pain of having to say goodbye. There are many memorably funny moments and even some touching ones, as well. It is unthinkable how anyone could not like this film or give it bad reviews. Having grown-up in the late 1970's, it is a nice trip to the past and fond memories of summers gone-by. I highly recommend this warm, charming and upbeat film. Don't miss it!

* My favorite scene in Meatballs:

Just about any scene where Bill Murray is interacting with Chris Makepeace is a good one.  Those two had some amazing chemistry together, their scenes really were the heart of the movie.  In fact when I was a kid at summer camp in the mid 80's, I remember always thinking "Man, I wish I had a counselor as awesome as Bill Murray."

If I had to pick just one of their scenes as my favorite, I will pick the scene where Tripper and Rudy are playing cards for peanuts.  I can probably reel off 10 great one liners just from that scene alone.  In fact the line "Twenty?! Is that what they teach you in that school of yours, twenty?" may have been the line that my brother and I quoted more than any other movie quote in the 1980's. It was either that or something random from Johnny Dangerously.

Rudy:  I think I like history the most.  I like imagining I'm in some other place, some other time.
Tripper:  Shut up and look at your cards.

Meatballs at the IMDB

Meatballs at Wikipedia

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