Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE SUMMER: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

“When you’re rich, food isn’t supposed to taste like it is.”

The Legend of Billie Jean, 1985 (Helen Slater) TriStar Pictures

Is this kids versus the Establishment, or is it kids versus adults, or is it kids versus other jerk kids? The trouble begins when Binx (a young Christian Slater) throws an ice cream shake in Hubie Pyatt’s face. Hubie steals his scooter and trashes it. When older sister, Billie Jean (Helen Slater, no relation), presents him with an estimate for the damages, he denies ever taking it, for Billie Jean and her brother are trailer trash. To add injury to insult, Hubie’s Pop tries to rape her. Christian comes to her defense. He grabs a gun. The gun goes off accidentally and shoots him. This whole movie is Christian Slater’s fault! They drive off convinced the cops (personified by Peter Coyote’s altruistic Lieutenant Ringwald) won’t believe them.

It’s easy to see how all this can snowball into calamity. Billie Jean, her brother, and their friends hit the road. Call them mint jelly because they’re on the lam! I had to throw in a Simpsons joke because Yeardley Smith is in this movie, and there really was no proper way to integrate her into my Heaven Help Us! review. Being a cop is a difficult job. Ringwald has a plain-and-simple motive, but he knows these are good kids, and the whole thing must be some wacky misunderstanding. In short order, Billie Jean becomes an outlaw celebrity of sorts. She calls Ringwald, tells him she’s willing to turn herself in provided she gets the money for the damages to Binx’s scooter. Hubie’s pop refuses to give her any money, but he’s not above selling pictures of her — she is rather fetching — which infuriates Ringwald.

They arrange for her to be picked up at the local shopping mall. Billie Jean steals some G.I. Joe walkie-talkies and batteries, but she leaves some promissory notes in their place. Hubie and his pop try to trap her, but luckily she manages to escape (to the tune of “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol). Since the incident took place in a crowded mall, Billie Jean becomes the center of a media circus. Straight-up lies are told by and to the Media about alleged “criminal acts.” They break into a house they assume is empty, but the owner’s son, the asthmatic Lloyd (Keith Gordon), shows up to help them cultivate their image as pop-culture sensations. Billie Jean cuts her hair short (no, those beautiful locks!) and becomes another kind of supergirl.

Lloyd sees in her a Joan of Arc, but she becomes a Robin Hood for abused children, a living symbol. I wish there were more scenes like this in the movie. The movie is too short. Lloyd’s father (Dean Stockwell) is a district attorney, so the kid knows a little something about the law. First, he videotapes her side of the story, and then he becomes her willing hostage in an effort to tell her saga to the world. They send a tape (by way of a cute little boy courier) to Ringwald. The tape is also released to the Media. Luckily, they have public favor on their side, but Hubie Pyatt’s Pop smells a rare merchandising opportunity, and he makes a mint off her looks. Isn’t this illegal? Shouldn’t she have some approval over this sort of thing?

They’re chased by a lunatic redneck with a shotgun, and in one of the funnier scenes, Yeardley thinks she got shot, but it turns out she had her first period. Billie Jean decides to ditch her girlfriends because she doesn’t want to put them in any further danger. This is an incredibly fun movie directed by Matthew Robbins from a script by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, and despite the subject matter, there are no sexual politics on display. There’s no lecture. It’s simply a matter of right versus wrong, not kids versus everything. Slater embodies a fascinating character interested in financial restitution and, more importantly, an apology from Hubie’s Pop. Robbins directed Corvette Summer, Dragonslayer, and *batteries not included. He is also believed to have “ghost-written” Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Pat Benatar had a big hit with “Invincible.”

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