The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Director: Matthew Robbins
Cast: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon, Peter Coyote, Dean Stockwell, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith
So according to IMDB, Pat Benatar, the singer behind 'Invincible’, the theme song for The Legend of Billie Jean, supposedly introduces this song by saying “this song comes from the worst movie ever made”; a statement that I am strongly against! I mean, sure, nobody is saying that The Legend of Billie Jean is the best movie of all time or anything, but worst movie ever made? Come on! This movie is one of the most quintessentially 80’s movies ever made! That’s what it is! And it’s got spirit and spunk! The soundtrack is awesome, and no matter how much Pat Benatar might hate this movie, her song gels to perfection with the film! “We will be Invincible!” It’s that spirit of us vs. them, the oppressed vs. the oppressor, the rebels vs. the system that gives The Legend of Billie Jean its cult status; it’s the reason why it’s gone on as long as it has. We the people identify with the heroically stoic figure of Billie Jean; she will not stand the abuse! She fights back! And she’s a woman! And she will take it no longer!
The films premise is an interesting one. Billie Jean and her brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first role) are two teenagers who enjoy the simple things in life: vanilla shakes, riding their scooter to the lake and basking in the sun as they muse about their possible futures. Their peace is disrupted when a group of rich bullies (read: total assholes) start disrespectfully hitting on Billy Jean. When she refuses their advances and Binx throws a strawberry shake in their faces, the bullies steal Binx’s scooter and take off with it. They later trash it, and give Binx a beating which leaves him all bruised and disfigured. That’s when Billie Jean decides to take matters into her own hands! She goes to the rich kid’s father and asks for the 608 dollars that its going to cost to fix the bike, the rich bastard says he’ll give her the money little by little, in exchange for sex every time she comes. Billie Jean of course refuses! One thing leads to another and Binx ends up accidentally shooting the rich guy in the shoulder, so Billie Jean, Binx and their two friends run off together, avoiding the law and surviving in abandoned buildings and empty houses, becoming legends along the way. Will they get Binx’s scooter back? Will the rich asshole pay the money he owes? And can Billie Jean and company live on the run for long?
The Legend of Billie Jean is one of these movies in which adults don’t pay attention to the kids and their situations, which is kind of like a staple of movies from the eighties. Billie Jean actually goes to the police, who brush off her story as nonsense. They think it’s just a silly squabble amongst teenagers, but the teenagers are sick of being ignored by the adults, so they take matters into their own hands. The film has that spirity of young people wanting to change the world they are living in, they want to revolt and make things better. But the powers that be don’t want to let them do that, they don’t want teenagers revolting and saying what they think or feel. Billie Jean represents that voice, she’s the voice of her generation. And this particular generation she represents is the generation that was living through the Regan era, a time when capitalism/consumerism was rampant and money was king, it was a generation known as the ‘me’ generation. That selfishness, powered by greed is represented perfectly here. The whole film is one big message against consumerism. Billie Jean becomes a hero to the people, so suddenly she becomes marketable, so suddenly everyone is selling Billie Jean T-shirts, hats, posters, bumper stickers, you name it. The ending of the film speaks loudly about what the filmmakers think of consumerism. Here’s a hint: they despise it. They see it as something that’s devouring humanity, spreading like a cancer, as we all know, they were absolutely right, consumerism has grown way out of control, it’s stronger and uglier than ever. If you don’t believe me, go to a Wal-Mart on Black Friday and watch people die. Billie Jean hates this money based society, she wants her 608 dollars, but at the end of the day, she hates the fact that this is all about money.
This film is b-movie stuff for many, and in many ways I’d say they are right, but in other ways, the film has a lot to say. Billie Jean identifies with Joan of Arc, she sees herself as a strong woman with a voice, she wants to be heard and treated with respect, she’s standing up for herself. She wants her brothers scooter back and wants to make sure we are all treated fairly, its Billie Jean vs. the abused, in this case, her little brother and herself. I mean, it’s not just about getting the scooter or the money back, Billie Jean is also angry that she was almost raped by the rich greedy bad guy. At heart, this is a film about a woman standing up for herself and not taking the abuse anymore and that my friends, is something I applaud, even through all the cheesiness. Which by the way I find is one of the many charms this film has, it exudes a certain naiveté, a certain idealism and a passion to set things right. I love this kind of film, where the teens stand up to ‘buck the system’, yelling at the ones running the planet letting them know they are wrong. The Legend of Billy Jean can stand proudly next to films like Turk 182! (1985), Wisdom (1986), Footloose (1984), Heathers (1988) and Pump Up the Volume (1990), all movies where young people give the finger to adults and want to do things their way, which is usually fueled by heart, passion and justice; which is why I like The Legend of Billie Jean so much. It's about being fair with everybody, especially the poor. So the film also addresses classist issues, it's the rich vs. the poor here and the poor want to be treated with some respect. That's all, they want to be treated with dignity.
Helen Slater nails it as Billie Jean, giving a rebel yell, screaming for all the kids, becoming their hero. Love that whole idea about kids helping each other, like a secret society of youngsters all backing each other up. Like youth existing on a whole other level that adults don’t even know about, it kind of makes me wanna be a teenager again! Watching this movie takes me back to my teenage years. Yeah, I was a kid when this film first came out, I was about ten, so Billie Jean in many ways became a voice for me, I was right there following her with all those other kids. Of course, now the film seems a bit cheesy to me, but I can see past its flaws because to me, it’s more about the feeling, the passion and the ideas that the film projects, it’s that idealistic way of seeing the world, it’s about the way we’d like things to be. What I wouldn't give for everybody to collectively want to produce a significant change in society, to change the status quo of things, or at the very least give it a try. Is it all that idealistic of an idea?
Rating: 4 out of 5