Originally published on Frags and Beer, October 14, 2020
This is one of my favorite movies from my childhood. I remember watching it on the TV in my Grandparent’s basement because they had HBO. I was enthralled with the idea of kids standing up for injustice, and I probably had a crush on Billie Jean. I can’t say for sure because I know I was pretty young, so it’s hard to remember if having a crush was even possible then. It could have just been the idea of a big sister sticking up for her brother, and young people supporting each other. In any case, there is a lot to this movie that resonates differently as an adult, and as a writer.
The Legend of Billie Jean is a 1985 drama about a young woman, and her brother who become fugitives after accidentally shooting someone. Binx (Christian Slater) has a run-in with the local hot shot Hubie (Barry Tubb), who wrecks his scooter. When Billie (Helen Slater — No relation) goes to collect the repair money from Hubie’s dad everything falls apart. Binx finds a gun in the cash register of the store and accidentally shoots Mr. Pyatt. The kids flee from the police, which allows Mr. Pyatt to weave a story about how they tried to rob him. Billie and the other kids try to get their story out, and an underground network of supporters helps them, which eventually leads to the true story becoming public.
It’s a story with a truly strong female lead, which we could use more of today. I mean, a lot of people try but it tends to turn out like a ‘man in a skirt’ trope, or a flawless character no one believes in. Billie starts out wanting to take care of her younger brother. She stands up to the bully, and his sexist dad, because it’s the right thing to do. She doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, and is even thankful that Mr. Pyatt doesn’t die from the gun shot. She doesn’t need all the men in the story to be idiots, or sexist, for her to be believable. They even handle the coming of age of the characters in a very realistic, natural way. From Putter (Yeardly Smith) getting her period, to Hubie coming to realize his dad is a piece of garbage. Like my wife said, while we watched it, she wasn’t a badass from the start. “She became a badass because they lied about her. She never wanted it, she just wanted to help her brother.” It was good character development that actually made you like her and want her to win.
Julie also loved the part where the underground following sprung up around this modern day Joan of Arc. How they protected her and helped hide her from the cops. Everyone, including the lead investigator, knew that something wasn’t right about Pyatt’s story. Some people took longer than others, and some had other motivations (like politics) for believing him over Billie Jean. In the end Pyatt’s story was rejected and things were set to right. Billie Jean faced him, and shamed him publicly for what he did. His community, and even his son, rejected him. The story has a great morality, that you should do what’s right, even if it’s hard. Stand up to bullies, and stand up for your beliefs.
From the G.I. Joe walkie talkies (which I had) to the feathered hair and shopping malls, this is a quintessential 80s movie. The soundtrack is fantastic, with several hits that will remind you of this movie after you’ve seen it. While it does touch a little bit on more adult themes, it’s a great movie for your kids, and one that I think young girls would appreciate. It holds up today just as well as it did when it was released. I would even say that Billie Jean deserves a spot with Ripley, Sarah Connor, and other badass women that came out of 80s movies. We paired the movie with Manhattans, which honestly weren’t that good. Could have been the recipe, but there’s not much to it. We wound up just adding some simple syrup which made it basically an old fashioned.
Again, great movie. Worth a rewatch. If you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have young kids, maybe over 11 on up, it’s a great watch for them too.