Meatballs (1979)


“It just doesn’t matter!”

The Scoop: 1979 PG, directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray, Kristine DeBell, and Harvey Atkin

Tagline: Are you ready for a good time?

Summary Capsule: Wacky camp counselors survive summer with humor and sanity intact

Justin’s rating: Yes. I am ready for The Summer.

Justin’s review: Let’s be honest, Bill Murray has never been attractive. Even back in 1978, he looked 40-something. But Great Goobers is the man funny. And women always say they want a man with a sense of humor, right? Right. Sure. Until you start using sock puppets in bed and throwing your voice to do a Bugs Bunny impersonation, then they start whining about wanting a “body” too.

Meatballs was the breakout smash for Murray, who played lead counselor Tripper. Tripper is the voice of leadership and temporary insanity that sets the standard for an offbeat summer camp. He rips up the camp rules, broadcasts crazy PSAs over the loudspeakers, and chases the female counselors with reckless abandon. In what would become typical Murray fashion, Tripper utters outrageous one-liners with deadpan certainty. I am sure that Meatballs sans Murray would have ended up another boring “nutty people do nutty things” film, but not only does Murray make this an exceptionally funny flick, he also does so with the crutch of the utterly uncool decade of the ’70s.

Yes, I am sure that there are some of you that are willing to defend the ’70s to the death, but even die-hard fans of polyester and disco would be more than hesitant to stick up for ultra-cheesy folk songs (that unfortunately permeate this soundtrack) and men wearing afros. White men wearing afros. White men, with moustaches, wearing afros. And knee-high socks. Not to mention that everyone’s pants in this film seem about two sizes too small (great on the ladies, bad on the other gender). Sure, being over thirty years old, Meatballs has dated somewhat. But the essence of summer camp hasn’t changed much, and Meatballs does a terrific job of portraying the sometimes dead-on accurate antics that take place.

Most of Meatballs consists of small tidbits of camp life, from campers playing sports to the CITs abusing their power recklessly. Morty the camp owner is a great target for good-natured ribbing (particularly when they continue to move him and his bed to various spots in the woods). Plot is virtually non-existent, really. Tripper does make friends with a down-and-out camper, and I think this relationship really made me warm up to his character beyond the goofiness. There’s also some rivalry with an opposing rich camp, but it’s so weakly developed that you’d never give it another thought.

It’s not pure laughs. There are scenes where you will say, “What were people in the seventies thinking?” Murray doesn’t have enough bad guys to properly display his sarcastic wit. But Meatballs ends up being a funny romp through the trials and tribulations of summer camp anyhow, and I can’t bash it for trying.

Sue’s rating: Ah, the seventies. When the hair was bigger, the socks were stripier, and the shorts were indecently skimpy. Then there were the women’s fashions…

Sue’s review: For the duration of this review, I expect all of you to refer to me as “Chief”. Chief Sue. Yes, before you stands a Camp Sandy [Insert Random Geological Feature Here to pre-empt copyright infringement litigation] CIT of 1983 and 1984, Junior Counselor/Junior Activities Specialist (horsemanship) of 1985 and Senior Activities Specialist (horsemanship) of 1986. After all of that, I’ve earned the right to be called Chief, boys and girls. Now, before we begin, let us sing our camp song together. Ready? *deep breath*

Sandy [Geological Feature]!
Camp I love!
Rocks and trees and beauties that are from above!
Skies so blue! Friends so true!
Take me back to camping days at Sandy [Geological Featurrrrre]!!!!!

Nicely done, although I couldn’t hear you, Al. A little more camperly team spirit, if you please.

Ahhh, watching Meatballs always takes me back to those halcyon days of summer. (What does halcyon mean anyway, and does it have anything to do with halogen?) Oh, I’ll grant you, we didn’t have the rampant drinking, smoking or canoodling that Bill Murray and company enjoyed, (at least not when the campers were around), but summer camp- even back in my day, when dinosaur hunting was a popular group activity — was definitely a place where newly minted adults could spread their wings, prove that they were up to handling responsibility… uhm… responsibly, have a lot of fun doing things that would have gotten them shunned for life in “the real world”, and swear to never, ever, ever have kids of their own.

That has to be the longest, loopiest run-on sentence I’ve typed in years. Maybe decades. Ha. Go me.

Although Meatballs is essentially nothing more than a montage of occasionally over-the-top summer camp weirdness, the main thread of the story seems to follow troubled camper Rudy Gerner, and his friendship with arguably insane camp Program Director Tripper. Rudy (Chris Makepeace) is a shy boy. He grins a lot, at least when he doesn’t look like he’s a.) constipated or b.) on the razor edge of bursting into girly tears. His longest line of dialogue comes across like an adolescent Gregorian chant. (“Do you like her? I think you like her. Yeah you like her. You like her.”) And his main purpose in life seems to be providing mumbling descants to Bill Murray’s crescendoing howls of camp-oriented raving. Over time, Rudy apparently learns self confidence. Or how to sweat like a man. Or something.

Veteran that I am, I’m here to tell you that Rudy was a piece of cake. I had… well, let’s call her Mandy. Like the Barry Manilow song. (She deserved to be Manilowed.)

Mandy, yet another troubled child, was neither quiet, nor shy, nor prone to ‘grinning’. She whined, she complained, she moped, she whined some more, she had temper tantrums to rival Anakin Skywalker on his worst day. She kicked me in the shins a lot. During a scavenger hunt competition that pitted all the cabins against each other, knowing perfectly well that the Junior Counselor of the losing cabin would be summarily thrown into the Elk River, dear sweet Mandy sat down on the ground and would not move. Just… sat there. Maybe Bill Murray’s effervescent Tripper could have jollied her into willing participation, but I’ve got to tell you, that ain’t in my repertoire. Nope. As kindly and empathetically as possible, I picked her up kicking and screaming (nothing new there), threw her over my shoulder in a modified fireman’s lift and carried her shrieking little carcass through the rest of the hunt. This goes to show that I was a lot younger then. (These days, I can maybe sprint a good twenty five yards before I have to stop for oxygen. Carrying a passenger? Maybe two yards.) I’d like to think that Mandy and I came to an understanding after that incident. A grudging respect of some sort. Yeah, I’d like to think that, but I’d be lying to myself. She probably grew up to be a serial killer or an accountant or something. What really mattered though, was that I did NOT get tossed into the river. HA! In your face, Chief Karen!

Oh, and Meatballs? Pretty good flick, if you can get past hairy men in short-shorts and don’t suffer from field hockey flashbacks.

"Here, in the woods, you will become my Forest Bride."
“Here, in the woods, you will become my Forest Bride.”


  • Meatballs was followed by three sequels, none of which starred Bill Murray. Pity.
  • Rudy is reading a Thing comic.
  • Written on the bathroom door in Tripper’s cabin: Please flush toilet for at least 30 seconds….it’s a long way to the kitchen.
  • The new National Anthem
  • When the hand goes up… the mouth goes shut!
  • Finger on the nose means you don’t have to stack dishes
  • Preempt the girl by screaming yourself
  • Afros, moustaches, skimpy shorts, no bras — the 70s, ladies and gentlemen

Groovy Quotes

Tripper: I’ll be coming at you every morning about this time hoping to make your summer camp experience the best available in this price range.

Morty: The name’s Morty, not Mickey.

Tripper: So this year each camper will stalk and kill his own bear in our private wildlife preserve.

Tripper: 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.

Tripper: These are the camp rules. [rips them up and throws them into a garbage can] They’ll be in here if you want to check them out later.

Tripper: I’ll get them with this Swiss pocket knife. The Swiss trained me to kill.

Tripper: Roxanne, I have what doctors call very active glands.

Tripper: Attention campers! Remember, this is Killer Bee season in the North Woods, so don’t provoke any flying yellow things. You’re just asking for trouble.

Tripper: Tomorrow is Parents’ Day, and you must appear rested or Morty will be sent to the state penitentary.

Tripper: Attention campers! Arts and crafts have been cancelled due to bad taste, and all junior girls are now junior boys.

Tripper: I’ve heard of the buddy system, but this is ridiculous.

Tripper: Oh no! Egg toss! Probably the most punishing of food-related sports.


Rudy: I hope I won’t let you down, Tripper.
Tripper: You won’t. Now let’s go get laid before the race.

Tripper: How’s the leg?

Rudy: Okay.
Tripper: Yeah, for now. But if you don’t win, we cut it off.

Tripper: 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.”

Tripper: You must be the short depressed kid we ordered.

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

Tripper (on camping trip): It’s a weird moon. The moon kills you know. It feeds off the earth. On a night like this, one of us could get up in the middle of the night, grab an axe and cut somebody’s head off.

Tripper: Let’s see what you’re entered in… Gerner, Gerner, Gerner… argh, the potato race! Dammit, don’t they know you’re just a kid? Two years ago, a boy fell on a potato. Mashed himself.

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  1. .

    I never went to summer camp, so this movie is just about the only way I’ve ever had a chance to “experience” what going to camp must have been like.

    And though I realize it’s just a movie, if this depiction is ANYTHING like the actual experience of what it was like, THEN SIGN ME UP !!

    Better yet, sign me up for THIS camp, complete with a fun, funny, yet (deep down) sensitive Camp Counselor like Bill Murray’s “Tripper Harrison” !!

    Fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it back in 1979, and have NEVER tired of watching it over, and over, and over again since then…….ESPECIALLY during the darkest, coldest days of EVERY winter I’ve spent here in the midwest for over 59 years !!

    LONG LIVE SUMMER CAMPS…..ESPECIALLY for those of us that never got to go !!


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