From the Vaults: The Legend of Billie Jean

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Movies, The Vault
Tags: , , ,

Every once in a while, I’ll open up the vault to pull out a forgotten treasure or an underappreciated gem

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Director: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell

If you, like me, are from Corpus Christi, Texas then you know exactly why this movie is such a treasure.

If, in the more likely case, you’ve never heard of this fine 80’s gem, pull up a chair, throw on a jean jacket and allow me to expound on the many virtues on display in this criminally forgotten classic.

Helen Slater stars as the titular Billie Jean Davy, a lovely teenager growing up in a trailer park in Corpus Christi, the sparkling city by the sea and frequent target of hurricanes. She lives there with her brother, Binx, who is played by Christian Slater (no relation to Ms. Slater.) They spend their summer days riding around on Binx’s (such a stupid name) moped and swimming in a nearby waterhole.

At the swimming hole. NICE!

On just such an occassion, the siblings encounter a pack of nogoodniks whose advances were previously rejected at the Sonic Drive-In (Seriously, this movie is dripping in good old-fashioned Texas white trash.) Sexually frustrated by the virginal Billie Jean, the punks commandeer Binx’s moped and cause literally dozen’s of dollars of damage to it. I’m pretty sure you could buy a IPad for how much that POS probably cost.

Anyway, we are talking 80’s dollars here so that was a chunk of change and the Davy’s are dead set on getting recompense. To wit, they go to the thriving beach side souvenir store run by the father of the leader of the punks. The dad is an oily kind of dude but surely young Billie Jean has no reason to suspect ulterior motives when he invites her upstairs. Never mind the fact he’s got a murder van parked out back. Anyway, he offers up a proposal of an…indecent nature which she politely refuses because she’s already banging her volleyball coach.

MEANWHILE…Binx, doomed to a lifetime of idiocy by his name and the fact that he’s being played by Christian Slater, is downstairs rifling behind the counter like any normal person would do in the same situation. He finds a gun, Billie Jean comes racing down the stairs because she’s conflicted by her love for the oily daddy, teenage punk son walks in, there’s a whole Reservoir Dogs kinda thing, and the dad goes down from a grazing gunshot wound while our heroes go on the run.

Binx. Whatta douche.

If it sound’s like I’m making fun of the movie…well, I kind of am. But it’s out of love. It’s like that rich cousin you have who you might save from a vicious dog if someone else were watching. Might. Depends on how far away you are. Or how big the dog is.

It’s harmless fun filled with overwrought acting and it proudly bears one of those ridiculous plots where if someone just stopped for one second and said, “Hold on! Maybe we should just logically explain what’s going on and everyone will see we were in the right!” then there would be no movie. But no, Binx just grabs a gun and it all goes tits up which is why it’s great.

As I alluded to earlier, the film gets bonus points for being filmed in my hometown. More bonus points for featuring Peter Coyote of E.T fame, Yeardley Smith of Lisa Simpson fame, and a pre-Quantum Leap Dean Stockwell. There’s a whole teenage rebellion thing going on here with an out-of-left-field homage to Joan of Arc. The wicked good soundtrack features a killer title tune offered up by Pat Benatar who needed the money.

But all that goodness pales in comparison to the ultimate goodness. Inspired by Ms. of Arc, Billie Jean cuts her hair short to resemble the martyr. She dons a scuba top with cut-off sleeves, fingerless gloves, dangly earrings, and heavy eyeshadow. She’s steps from the shadows in the backyard of the mansion where her merry band of criminals have take refuge. Filmed by the young man who lives in the mansion and who has fallen in love with her, she professes her innocence and declares her intentions to continue her holy war until the oily man has met her demands. ‘We didn’t start this,’ she says defiantly,’but we are going to finish it. Fair is fair. Fair is fair!’

Yes indeed, Billie Jean. Fair is fair. Fair is fair.

Fair is fair!

Even more bonus points: When Smith’s character, Putter (another stupid name), is taken into custody after boldly sacrificing herself for her best friend, her mother comes storming into the jailhouse and promptly slaps her wayward teen. The mother is played by Janet Smalley in her only film role. Ms. Smalley, as I knew her, played piano for my junior high school choir.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who would ever admit they were in choir?

Moving on.

The Legend of Billie Jean is not widely available on DVD or Blu-ray but can be purchased from Warner Brothers Archive for a more than reasonable price.

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