The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)


After a confrontation with bullies leads to attempted rape and gunfire, Helen Slater (Supergirl) hits the road with her brother (Christian Slater) and a pair of friends (Yeardley Smith and Martha Gehman). They dodge the police and profess their innocence to the press while Slater tries to find a way to resolve the escalating conflict before someone gets hurt. In the meantime, word-of-mouth and the media turn the once reluctant teen into a rebel icon.

The Legend of Billie Jean is full of underlying themes that never really come to fruition. In the hands of other writers or directors, it could have been a potent exploration of vigilantism, mob mentality, and the dark side of celebrity. But for better or for worse (I’m not sure which), writer Mark Rosenthal and director Matthew Robbins (Corvette Summer, Batteries Not Included) gloss over the heavy stuff and lean into the adventure and wish-fulfillment elements of the storytelling. Heck, it’s fun to run away and hide out in an abandoned mini-golf park with Helen and Christian Slater (no relation). And it’s fun to fall in love with the boy who begs to be your hostage (Keith Gordon). It’s even sort of fun to see yourself as a towering, fan-built paper-mache statue. The movie even makes light of Yeardley Smith’s (The Simpsons) first period.

Even though the inciting action might warrant a more serious approach, The Legend of Billie Jean is a fun ride if you suspend your disbelief. The film barely registered at the box office, but quickly became a cult favorite on cable television. Slater’s transformation into a new-age Joan of Arc is one of pop cinema’s earliest statements of ‘girl power’, an angle that has only grown stronger over the years. The film is also much loved for its distinctly ’80s look and sound, including Pat Benatar’s power anthem, “Invincible.”

With Peter Coyote, Dean Stockwell, and a villainous Richard Bradford.

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