I Saw A Film!
You could be mistaken for not expecting very much from Saturday Night Live alum Bill Murray after watching this early attempt at giving him a perfect seat for his variety of exuberant irreverence and jokes. He’s a lead kid’s camp counselor at a budget sleepaway camp teaching alphabet burping and losing with dignity (maybe). Many of the jokes revolve around the rich camp across the pond, and ways for the blue-collar kids to achieve in their shadow.
Murray’s Tripper is also in love with a young lady camp co-worker who seems entirely comfortable with his bumbling version of romance, and she rightly rejects most of his comic approaches which include pro-wrestling and bum-biting shark attacks, all of which are cute enough, but don’t really seem appropriate for this bank of kiddos coming of age. Murray would employ this enjoyable playfulness to good effect in Stripes and Caddyshack soon after, and I’m one of the few who loved him in Razor’s Edge, but I was at that age (somehow a WW1 veteran), and the Maugham book spoke to me.
Meatballs on the revisit 40 years later has some surprises. I’d, of course, forgotten most of the jokes, but had missed that the major theme had been a socio-economic one. When Murray’s Tripper begins his anti-pep talk to the kids about to go compete with the rich kids at the other camp, he rallies them with the all too pertinent “It Just Doesn’t Matter!” chant. This little bit of Buddhism spoke to me more viscerally than anything provided by years of Rocky type stories. The reality is this is brilliantly correct. In the grand scheme of things, competing against a bunch of kids who have their own team masseuses and many other leg-ups (or is it legs-up) in life matters even less in summer camp than it will later in life when you might be trying to impress a lady, or get promoted to a better position at your job. Meatballs not only wants you to not worry about the meaningless competition, it wants you to consider pantsing your future “betters”. This, my friends, is such a refreshing blue-collar positive outlook, it basically makes the movie worth its 40 year longevity, having been created at the end of the 70s when a “hippy” outlook of valuing something other than the economics of your situation wasn’t just common it was an American ideal (consider the graduate in The Graduate pursuing romance over the wealthy opportunities his family and connections offer). No joke, Americanism used to be about more than just competition, it used to be about citizenry and individualism–NOT the individualism of stubbornness, but the individualism of tremendous self-improvement, involvement and creativity. Plus the young ladies (camp counselors for the girls) are given a bit of story-telling of their own, they’re not just objects of fantasy for the horny boys, one young lady actually kidnaps one of the fellows with a speedboat and breathlessly announces her love as she speeds away with him upside down in the passenger seat. Aw.
Yes, Meatballs is a silly film demarking an age when we laughed at twit-wealth. Our stories weren’t about Trump or Giuliani, but about the blue-collar efforts of the British Invasion and environmentalism. We laughed along with Monty Python’s outstanding wealthy Twit of the year contests. We need more of this. Much More.
Free on Prime my friends.