TIFF’s TOGA! The Reinvention of American Comedy Reviews: Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984)
Free from the specter of nostalgia about the summer camp experience or the film itself, I can confidently state that Meatballs can be best experienced today for its influence and placement at the forefront of a new brand of raucous North American comedy. Conceived by Canadian writer-director-producer Ivan Reitman as a quickly-shot directorial vehicle following his loss of that role on National Lampoon’s Animal House, the film introduced to cinema audiences the insouciant, above-the-fray wit of Second City, National Lampoon, and then-recent Saturday Night Live alum Bill Murray as head counselor Tripper Harrison. Set at the second-rate Camp North Star (the real-life Camp White Pine at Haliburton, Ontario, where Reitman and writers Dan Goldberg and Len Blum had attended as kids), Meatballs marries the anti-snob, us-against-them mentality of Animal House with counterculture anarchy of M*A*S*H in a more kid- and teenager-friendly milieu, becoming in the process an independent blockbuster and one of the most financially successful Canadian films even to this day. Yet it became a victim of its own success, spawning several forgettable sequels and a host of imitators, remarkable only for the motormouth performance and relatively gentle sensibility at its core.