Friday, August 29, 2008

The Legend of Billie Jean (Matthew Robbins, 1985)

Proving that even the most benign act can change the world, The Legend of Billie Jean is a true inspiration. A sharp critique of media sensationalism and a feisty tribute to grassroots activism, the film may appear to be only about a thrashed motor scooter (a trashed red Honda Elite motor scooter, to be exact), and the salacious circumstances centered around the unpaid restitution for said thrashed motor scooter. But the mangled moped is just a metaphor for the deep-seated malaise that was infecting the citizens of the mid-1980s. Establishing that forced sexual favours will not be tolerated when it comes to settling financial grievances, the spunky defender with the golden locks of the film's title and her mirthful band of reluctant fugitives set about making the wrong things right. Armed only with a couple of G.I. Joe walkies, a plastic handgun and the mantra "Fair is fair," the underage gang of Texas troublemakers, at first, shun conventionality (lay low and stay clear of the law). However, they soon find themselves transformed into folk heroes, as their scooter plight gains a rabid cult flowing. (Much like this film has over the years.) Prompting me to clench my fist and enthusiastically launch it in the air on numerous occasions, Billie Jean is the greatest superhero to ever beautify the big screen. Casting aside the yawn-worthy antics of say, Spider-Man; Arak, Son of Thunder; and E-Man, the accidental heroine is everywhere yet nowhere at once. Sure, she might be a tad lacking in the superpower department, but what she lacks in fancy powers, she more than makes up for with grit, moxie and humility. And that's why I prefer Billie Jean over other so-called superheroes; she knows her limitations.
 
 
Taking unsubtle cues from Joan of Arc and, to a lesser extent, Lois Ayres in The Devil in Miss Jones 3, the lithesome do-gooder doesn't want to change the world, she just wants six hundred and eight dollars and a one-way ticket to an idyllic wonderland called "Vermont." And, in an unfunny way, I respect that.
 
 
Actually, it's her brother who's obsessed with Vermont, not Billie Jean. Duly noted. In fact, he's so obsessed, that he's got a Vermont poster on his bedroom wall. I said, duly noted.
 
 
Moving on to the shaper of this champion, movie actress/lesbian icon Helen Slater dons the Billie Jean costume with the beaming confidence of a bedraggled prize fighter.
 
 
At first, she's just another attractive woman riding on the back of her brother's motor scooter (played by a bratty Christian Slater - the brother, not the scooter - like I said, the scooter is a red Honda Elite), but the moment she brandishes her do-it-yourself hairdo and slips on those fingerless gloves, Helen starts to live up to the legend. (I must admit, I felt a pronounced sense of liberation during the haircut reveal scene.)
 
 
The short hair may have been integral to the success of her performance, however, the empathic facial expressions and the plucky determination that saturated Billie's nimbus was all Helen. I also thought her scenes with unconventional hottie Keith Gordon (Static), who plays the son of the state's district attorney, elevated the story beyond your typical wrecked scooter/impromptu social revolution movie.
 
 
Permeating the proceedings like porcelain porcupine, "Invincible" by Pat Benatar is a spiky Goliath of a song. Pulsating and throbbing like a wave of robust elixir, the unclogged ditty crackles with defiance.
 
 
Now do I say "Fair is fair" whenever I find myself shortchanged by unruly carnival folk? No. (I prefer to punch people in the face.) But do I think it? Hell yeah.
 
 
Oh, and keep an eye out for the leggy Martha Gehman (her legs are tan and taut) and a forthright Yeardley Smith (Herman's Head) as Billie Jean's loyal sidekicks. And Peter Coyote and Dean Stockwell as the "grownups" who want to put a stop to Billie Jean's reign of teen terror.

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2 comments:

  1. It's a shame it's never been released on DVD. You may be able to catch it in HD on HDNet movies.

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  2. Love The Legend of Billie Jean! The whole cast brought their A-game and Pat Benatar's song Invincible is really catchy.

    "We will be....INVINCIBLE!"

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