A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Meatballs is a sexual-innuendo-filled summer camp comedy from 1979, featuring 29 year-old Bill Murray. Even though it has young kids in it, it's intended for teen and adult viewers. There's no actual nudity, and no sex scenes, although two characters are heard speaking, off-screen, after they've had sex. But male characters ogle women in bikinis, and think and talk about sex almost constantly. There's a questionable spoken joke about children visiting hookers, and an uncomfortable scene in which a man jokingly attacks a woman (she doesn't think it's funny). Aside from sexual references, language includes things like "dick" and "hell." A camp counselor song includes a line about drinking and smoking, though these things are not shown in the movie. Irreverent at the time, the movie feels old-fashioned today. Older viewers will have a nostalgic fondness for it, but younger viewers may not be convinced.
What's the story?
It's time for summer at Camp North Star. Head counselor Tripper (Bill Murray) plans to make it a good one. His agenda includes chasing the pretty lady counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch) and playing nighttime pranks on owner Morty (Harvey Atkin). He also spends some extra time with shy kid Rudy (Chris Makepeace), encouraging him to take up running as a way to boost his confidence. When it comes time for the annual Olympiad, a competition with the rich, mean camp across the lake, it's up to Rudy to participate in the make-or-break final event. Does the camp's dignity hang in the balance?
Is it any good?
Ivan Reitman directs his first of four movies with Bill Murray, and he instantly understands how to give the great comic actor room to mess around. It's Murray's spontaneity that gives the movie its lifeblood. But Murray also shows an early, rare example of onscreen tenderness, in his scenes with the shy boy Rudy (Chris Makepeace, who went on to play a similar role in My Bodyguard). Murray clowns with the boy, but it comes from a place of genuine caring.
However, Murray's star power outshines most of the rest of the cast, and Reitman can't seem to find a balance for the rest of the movie. Its sweet, serious scenes come at awkward moments, and take up a bit too much of the final stretch. And its supposedly raucous, irreverent humor feels deliberately held back at times. This is odd, since National Lampoon's Animal House raised the bar for movie comedy just a year earlier. But on the other hand, Meatballs has a low-key tone that feels just right for summertime viewing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's sexual content. How accurate is the movie's portrayal of the way the guys talk and think about sex? How do the male and female characters approach the topic of sex differently?
Is Tripper a role model despite his irresponsible behavior? How did his guidance help Rudy? Have you ever met someone like Tripper who's helped you in some way?
Which characters grow or change or learn something over the summer? Which characters do not?
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