Monday, May 23, 2005

Retrobsession No. 2: The Legend of Billie Jean

Does anything ever feel so right that you know it is so wrong? That is exactly the way I feel when I admit to someone that I obsess over the film The Legend of Billie Jean. I guess that is what they technically call a guilty pleasure. Essentially an excuse to make something potentially not-cool very cool by admitting that you like it with the caveat that it you know it sucks in the opinion of the general populous.

I don't even remember when I first saw The Legend of Billie Jean but I know for sure that it wasn't in a theater. For a long time, I thought it was a TBS original. It just seemed to fit there. Yes, some movies just belong in a different class and this was one of them. It just had a dusty, summertime feel to it.
As you may (if you're cool) or may not (like it even matters) know, The Legend of Billie Jean is the story of Billie Jean Davy and her brother Binx (Christian Slater) on a mission to right a grievous wrong and clear their name in the doing. Taking place in a very backwoods looking Corpus Christi of which I am sure is the Cocoa Beach of Texas. Billie Jean being a very hot young thing but essentially trailer trash, the heart and backbone of her manufactured home, finds herself defending her brother's honor as the local bully Hubie Pyatt has trashed his brand new scooter. We used to call them fagmobiles. Anyway, in the 80's, scooters were sauce!

Nothing like a little brotherly love

So taking matters into her own hands, Billie Jean decides to confront Hubie's dad in his bait/t-shirt shop (again, shades of Cocoa). Being that she is Helen Slater and who wouldn't want to, Mr. Pyatt decides to try lecherous on for size and tries to strike a "deal" with her to pay for the bike in..umm, installments. BJ respects herself way too much to do it for that little money so things get rough and as Christian Slater would do in parts like this, rushes in at the wrong time and acts irrationally. He lifts Mr. Pyatt's gun and shoots the bastard in the shoulder. They run, along with two other residents of trailer village (including a young Lisa Simpson, aka Yeardley Smith).
They really don't get very far so even as a kid I kind of wanted to be like them because it seemed fun. Sleeping at the abandoned mini golf, breaking into mansions, getting lots of junk food and having other people buy it for you. While on the run, BJ and the gang realize that they are "in"famous and Christian Slater starts to have one of many ego trips. This movie would never be able to be made today, it had to be made when films like Girls Just Want To Have Fun were in vogue because there was just this fascination on the youth of the Eighties. Who were these new romantics? What makes them tick? You never really felt that the "crime" was ever that serious or felt that they were in any real danger. The cop on their ass was Peter Coyote for crying out loud! The gang try several times to clear their name but only make headway when they run into Lloyd, a geeky trust funder who's into horror films and Chess King clothes. Instant attraction between Lloyd and BJ and Binx gets ego trip #2 as he sees footage of themselves on TV. Realizing that the media tends to spin things with a negative slant (really!) BJ decides to take a stand and let her voice be heard. Utilizing Lloyd's resources, BJ disappears only to return with an extreme makeover and a plan to spin things back in their direction. She makes a video time to set things right! Fair is Far!!!

They're having a sale at Chess King!

The film really does capitalize on some very cool images, the primary one being that of BJ's transformation from trailer tart to underground folk hero mostly by wearing a ripped wet suit and getting a haircut, but it's one helluva hair cut and one that I would die to have myself...she makes it look good! The part I always wait for though is the montage set to Pat Benetar's "Invincible" which shows Billie Jean, now separated from the gang, traveling underground from place to place escorted by Billie Jean supporters most of which actually look like Billie Jean. One of the other great parts of this film is the rescue of Kenny from his abusive dad. It just has this great after school special feel to it where the whole neighborhood rallies around Billie Jean like some local celebrity. If it only had an anti drug message attached...

Putterjax and Ophelia are abandoned for their own safety and once back in the hands of the authorities and Putter's amish-librarian mom, BJ, Binx and Lloyd plan out their big finale which hopefully will include a brand new, see I told you. By this time if you weren't a girl wearing a butch blond Brigitte Neilson type hairdo in southern Texas, you just weren't happening. Mr. Pyatt, by the way, was using BJ's outlaw status to his advantage as posters and t-shirts of all kinds were made celebrating her celebrity status, a very telling social commentary relevant even today.

Debbie Gibson rules!

The big showdown at the beach will have you standing on edge. Everyone is there waiting for Billie Jean to show, Putter and Ophelia (who arrive like rock stars), Peter Coyote, Hubie Pyatt, Mr. Pyatt, Texas Ranger sharp shooters...Dean Stockwell. Unbeknownst to all, BJ has done a fakeout and is already on the beach with the crowd in disguise awaiting the arrival of everyone's hero except now it is Binx dressed up as BJ. So get this, Billie Jean climbs on top of the truck that carries the brand new scooter and just rips off the canopy to show Binx that everything is a go. Just like that! Yeah, she is in a disguise and all (looking like some Annie castaway) but come on! No one notices this going on? What the hell good are the sharp shooters for? Anyway, Hubie screws things up royally and calls out the fake to which the toy gun Binx is holding is waved in the air giving the sharp shooters reason to open fire. In typical Eighties teen movie fashion, they only nick him in the arm and as he is being carried off to the hospital, Billie Jean runs after the ambulance. Notice also that the day changes from 12 noon into six p.m. all of a sudden, for the dramatic close I am sure. After Binx is far out of sight, a distraught Billie Jean wanders the pier stopping in front of Mr. Pyatt's den of sin where her effigy is so engorged, he even has a ten foot replica of her on the roof of his shop.

Do you ever secretly hope to be famous some day like on a reality TV show so you aren't like totally famous but just a little bit? No? Just me? Oh. Well, I think of Billie Jean in this way, she is walking up to Mr. Pyatt's shop and all these people start to notice her until everyone is pointing "ooooh, it's her!" She walks straight up to Pyatt, pulls off her nasty wig and confronts her accuser right there in front of God, Texas and Peter Coyote. Still offering her money to shut up, she refuses to be treated like some lower class Wal-Mart hooker with grocery store feet and pushes the pig down knocking over his tiki torches (brilliant idea to have those with all that hay strewn around). The place catches on fire and in a moment so symbollic my dog even got it, people start taking their Billie Jean souveniers and throwing them in the steadily growing fire. The best part is when Mr. Pyatt pleads with the autorities to do something and they just turn and walk away. Another great moment just as Billie Jean is about to leave is when she stops in front of the law man who had been chasing her and he just sort of gives her a nod. The large statue of Billie Jean crumbles into the the shop in slow motion and completes a very good scene from a really great movie. Pat Benetar's "Invincible" kicks in and you start singing and dancing in your living room.

To this day, there is still no Legend of Billie Jean on DVD. You can find SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 on DVD but not this.


No comments: