Meatballs (1979) is Ivan Reitman's follow-up to the hugely successful National Lampoon's Animal House, which he co-produced. Meatballs is less frantic and more sentimental, but definitely in the same mould. Relying on juvenile, bawdy humour and the hip, anti-establishment attitude of Animal House, Meatballs is set in a summer camp for misfits overseen by head counsellor Tripper (Bill Murray in his first starring role). His objective for the summer is simple - to have more fun than last year and become intimate with the head female counsellor (Kate Lynch).
The main plot line involves the rivalry between Camp North Star and, across the lake, a camp filled with rich, mean kids. Each year the rich kids humiliate the poor ones at an annual Olympics-style event. This year, Tripper is determined to take his team all the way, and his motivational rallying cry to his team of losers is "It just doesn't matter!" A sub-plot involves quiet, introspective, homesick Rudy (Chris Makepeace), and Tripper's attempts to draw him out. It is Rudy who wins the marathon on the final day of the Olympiad to take the trophy for North Star.
Despite its critical drubbing - it has been described as adolescent fun and games for the easily amused - Meatballs remains one of the most popular Canadian films of all time, and is free of the usual grossness and cynicism of many teen comedies. Its success rests mostly on the shoulders of Murray, who gives a high-energy performance that rises above the clichéd script.
Meatballs won Genie Awards for its screenplay (by Harold Ramis, Daniel Goldberg and others) and lead actress (Lynch), and the Golden Reel Award for the top-grossing Canadian film at the domestic box office for 1979. It propelled director Reitman and producer Goldberg into very successful Hollywood careers.