A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Legend of Billie Jean

March 8, 2011

The Legend of Billie Jean

Apparently today is the one hundredth annual international women’s day. As such we’ve decided to put our Grindhouse viewing on hold and watch a movie that is a little more empowering for women. (Not that Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg isn’t empowering, but we wanted something a little more meaningful.

If it were not for our movie-a-day project we might never have purchased this movie. It was one of those hard to find out of print gems that we had always intended to own but which was kind of difficult to locate. But when we started evaluating our collection and looking for holes we decided that it was high time we found a copy and bought it. The fact that the VHS copy we eventually found through E-Bay is a little washed out and has slight tracking problems in a couple places actually kind of helps make the viewing a more authentically eighties experience. Because this movie is so very eighties that it almost hurts, so it seems appropriate that our viewing tonight feels like a flash back to the days of well-loved video cassettes rented from a little hole in the wall.

The story here is inspiring. Deliberately so. It tells of a young girl and her brother unjustly hunted by the law and the movement that she inspires. It’s painted as a larger than life story about how one girl refusing to put up with the misogynistic crap that life throws at her can make it possible for so many others to walk in her footsteps.

It all starts with a bike. Billie Jean’s brother Binx has a motor scooter that he loves. When a local bully steals it, trashes it and beats Binx up Billie Jean goes to the bully’s father to demand restitution. What she gets instead is almost molested by the skeevy bastard and only the fact that her brother and friends show up to see what’s taking so long saves her. Unfortunately in the process Binx accidentally shoots the molester and so he and his sister and a couple of their neighbours end up on the run. They repeatedly try to do the right thing, only to have Mr. Pyatt and his son Hubie drive them back into hiding. There’s a well-meaning police detective named Ringwald who knows just what’s going on, but he seems unable to find a way to a peaceful resolution of matters.

All Billie Jean wants is the money to repair her brother’s scooter. She doesn’t want to be an outlaw. She doesn’t want to be a martyr. She’s just standing up for what is right. “Fair’s fair,” after all. Eventually the four kids hide out in what appears to be an empty mansion, where they find a disaffected young rich kid who happens to have a whole lot of AV equipment. Billie Jean cuts off her hair and records a manifesto which they send to all the news outlets. A whole movement is created with girls chopping off their hair in solidarity. But things escalate once more because Lloyd runs away with the gang and it turns out that his father is the local DA and is running for Attorney General.

What makes this movie great for me is the whole popular movement that Billie Jean starts. I love seeing all these girls with their punk hairdos standing up for what’s right. I love the Pat Benatar soundtrack. I love the fantastic cast they have. Helen Slater makes a great stron female lead and looks damned powerful with her short hair. Christian Slater as her brother binx is fun and hardly seems like he’s doing a Jack Nicholson impression at all. There’s Dean Stockwell as Lloyd’s politically motivated absentee father. And my favorite part of the entire movie is Yeardly Smith as the impressionable young Putter who is tagging along. Yeardly apparently has been cast as a young girl her entire adult life. She was twenty one years old here and plays a just barely pubescent teen. And of course she’s been playing an eight-year-old for more than twenty years now. But Putter’s youthful exuberance and fun non-sequiters steal every scene she’s in.

Watching my wife watch this movie was almost as much fun as watching the movie itself. It is so deeply rooted in her teenaged years. A few years back somebody asked me (at the age of 35 or so) what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied “Buckaroo Banzai.” I strongly suspect that my wife wants to grow up to be Billie Jean. (Or Emma Peel.)

March 8, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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