Back Off Jack…I’m a Heavyweight
Sometime during the late 1990’s, Academy MetroWest came into possession of a copy of the movie Heavyweights. No one really remembers how it came to us or who brought it in but it’s exerted a powerful presence at our summer camp ever since. It’s one of those rare gems that’s ostensibly for kids but is just as funny for adults. All of our veteran staff members and campers, along with most of our newer participants, find themselves quoting it on a daily basis.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Heavyweights was released in 1995 and, for some reason, it was neither a commercial nor critical success. It’s the story of a group of overweight, misfit boys who spend the summer at Camp Hope, a “fat camp” that, for years, has been run by the Bushkins, a loving, nurturing couple played to great comic effect by Jerry Stiller and Ann Meara. Early on in the film, we learn that the Bushkins have fallen on hard times and have sold the camp to a maniac named Tony Perkis, wonderfully portrayed by Ben Stiller in one of his early starring roles. The film is probably most widely known as the first feature film by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Freaks & Geeks,….) and it also features a young Kenan Thompson, years before he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.
The plot of the movie is nothing out of the ordinary. The new camp owner has no idea how to interact with children and is looking to use the summer at Camp Hope to create a best-selling infomercial on the “Perkis System” for weight loss. After enduring his clueless and sadistic rule for most of the summer, the boys find their strength and confidence, stand up to Tony Perkis, take over the camp and begin to gain control over their weight and their lives.
“I am your new friend and counselor!” Academy MetroWest Director Gary Steinberg (left) and counselor extraordinaire Adam Hurley (center and right) model the latest in Heavyweights fashion.
Despite the fairly standard plot line, the dialogue in the movie is vastly superior to most standard-fare, feel-good kids’ movies. It might not rise to Superbad’s level of hilarity but most adults will find it very funny and, with the exception of a couple of skinny wiener and fat-ass jokes, there’s nothing in Heavyweights that would make parents feel icky about watching it with their kids. There are some wonderful messages for kids (and adults for that matter) in the movie but they’d mean nothing if it weren’t entertaining – and it is.
The messages the movie conveys have some important parallels to the ones we try to emphasize at our camp, Creative Adventures. Our kids are not necessarily overweight but we do draw a distinctly quirky crowd. Like the campers at Camp Hope in Heavyweights, many or our kids go through much of life feeling like they’re outsiders or that they’re somehow different from typical kids. In Heavyweights, the kids draw on their experiences and struggles to foster an atmosphere of empathy and support among each other. During one of the early scenes in the film, Gerry Garner, played by Aaron Schwartz, is on a plane as he heads to Camp Hope for the first time. He’s approached by Camp Hope veteran Roy, played by Kenan Thompson. Here’s a snippet of the dialogue:
Roy: Headed to fat camp?
Gerry: No! Why do you say that?
Roy: Because you’re fat.
Gerry: Well so are you.
Roy: I know. That’s why I’m going to fat camp. I’m Roy.
Gerry: I’m Gerry….yeah I guess I’m going.
Roy: I knew it! Well you’re going to love camp, man. Camp is awesome! Plus no one picks on you because YOU’RE not the fat kid. EVERYBODY’s the fat kid!
Substitute the word “quirky” for the word “fat” and you’ve got our camp in a nutshell. You can do the same thing later in the movie as Gerry is talking to Pat Finley, a veteran counselor at Camp Hope played by Tom McGowan, who also struggles with his weight. They begin talking about the campers at Camp MVP, a nearby sports camp populated by a more athletic crowd. Pat says:
“I wonder what it’d be like to be one of those guys. You know just once I’d like to score a winning touchdown. In my entire life, I’ve never scored a point in anything. Gerry, I’m just so tired of being the fat guy.”
There are other lessons too. Besides invaluable advice like “Never put Twinkies on your pizza!” Heavyweights also emphasizes working together, self-advocacy, self-control, empowerment (“If we start respecting ourselves, no one can touch us!”), and setting realistic expectations. It shares these messages without being preachy or making you feel like you’re being clubbed in the head with them. If you’re looking for a funny kids’ movie that doesn’t insult an adult’s intelligence, look no further than Heavyweights.