When you’re seventeen, people think they can do anything to you. Billie Jean is about to prove them wrong. The last thing she ever expected was to become a hero.
- tag line for THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (Tri-Star Pictures, 1985)
there are a handful of movies that cause me to wonder how in the sam hill did someone ever sell this idea? positioned right on the top of this list of tragically bad (and therefore deliciously fun to watch) is The Legend of Billie Jean, released smack dab in the middle of the eighties.
this dog has bad clothes, bad hair, bad music, and a plot that will make you say to yourself - how in the name of all that’s holy did someone come up with this (A), and then convince someone to put up money to make this into a major motion picture (B)?
i tried to nutshell the plot but there are so many bizarre quirks that…….well, let’s just say that this is a tad larger than a nutshell:
Billie Jean Davy (played by Helen Slater) lives in a texas trailer park with her brother Binx (played by no-relation Christian Slater in his first movie role). (you can already tell it’s going to be good, right?) After Binx’s honda scooter is stolen and then trashed by a group of delinquent kids Billie and Binx tell the local police chief (played by Peter Coyote, who is incredible as usual) but they are blown off as just another teenage incident and who cares.
Billie and Binx pay a visit to the father of one of the delinquent kids to give him a bill for repairs to the scooter. long story short the dad tries to get Billie Jean alone and rape her. meanwhile Binx happens on a gun in the cash register and shoots the dad in the shoulder when he sees that something’s going on. the two kids leave, gather a couple of their friends, jump in the family sedan, and run away from home becoming fugitives of justice. because that’s what would occur to anyone, right?
fabulous, isn’t it?? it gets better!
the runaway gang consists of Billie Jean, Binx and two friends - Ophelia (played by Martha Gehman) and Putter (played by Yeardley Smith, who is a true crackup and worth watching the movie for). they end up running into a spoiled rich kid named Lloyd (played by Keith Gordon) who is all alone in his big house because his father, a famous politician, is out of town on business.
Lloyd invites them to stay in the house with him while they regroup and figure out what’s next. the story is all over the news by now and the Peter Coyote character is chasing them like they’re Bonnie and Clyde, having realized (too late) that he should have dealt with this whole thing better in the beginning.
the movie’s pivotal scene takes place in Lloyd’s house as the gang rests and relaxes. they watch the 1957 classic film Saint Joan on TV (the Otto Preminger film starring Jean Seberg). Billie disappears into the bathroom and emerges later with her hair cut really short a la Saint Joan. (note: she cuts her hair herself, and perfectly) she’s now seeing herself as a crusader for justice and has come up with a tag line of her own: “Fair is Fair.”
to advance their cause, the gang has decided to fake-kidnap Lloyd (his idea - he’s rich and bored) so they can get some news coverage since his dad is famous. Lloyd (who fancies himself a bit of a filmmaker) makes a video of Billie talking about the scooter incident, how they are not thieves, and basically she wants everyone to realize that - you got it - fair is fair. they get the tape to a local TV station and it is broadcast ad nauseum, which makes Billie Jean a huge counterculture hero to the teens. girls all over the area cut their hair short like hers as a sign of solidarity with the cause.
now come on………..don’t you love it?!
the local radio station stages a Billie Jean rally to capitalize on the story, and it is well attended by tons of teens with signs that read ‘fair is fair.’ meanwhile, the evil dad has set up a stand on the beach to make some money off the media phenomenon and is selling Billie Jean t-shirts and posters. there’s a huge showdown between the real Billie Jean (who attends the rally along with the rest of the gang, but they all blend in because everyone looks like her) and the evil dad. of course it all ends well, justice is served, and fair turns out to indeed be fair. and Peter Coyote presumably keeps his job even though he really messed up preventing this debacle.
i mean……….seriously. don’t you immediately want to see this film? well thanks to the good folks at imdb.com, i can tell you that it will be shown on Turner Movie Classics thursday april 17 at 7:30am and monday april 21 at 11:30am. (i’ll be setting the DVR - all this plot retelling has me jonesing to see it for the 200th time). alas, it has not (yet) been released to DVD, but was at one time distributed via VHS.
The Legend of Billie Jean was targeted to the MTV generation but actually got bad reviews (amazing, i know) and only grossed about 3.5 million. Pat Benatar’s song “Invicible” was it’s theme and the only thing that was a bona fide hit about this film.