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Film / The Legend of Billie Jean

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"We didn't start this, we didn't mean it to happen, but we're not givin' up til you pay. Fair is fair!!!"

The Legend of Billie Jean is a 1985 film starring Helen Slater and Christian Slater (no relation in real life), about a small group of teens from Corpus Christi, Texas, who become outlaws after they are accused of attempted murder.

The trouble starts when Billie Jean and her brother Binx get into a squabble with a local bully, Hubie Pyatt. Hubie escalates the war by beating up Binx and vandalizing his motor scooter. When Billie Jean goes to seek reimbursement from Hubie's father, a local businessman, the sleazy Mr. Pyatt instead attempts to rape her; and, in the process of trying to rescue her, Binx accidentally shoots him.

Now the siblings, along with their friends Putter and Ophelia, are on the run from the law, as Mr. Pyatt quickly sics the cops (who had previously refused to pursue the vandalism) on them. While on the lam, they meet Lloyd, the son of the District Attorney, who chooses to join them as a "hostage". At this point Billie Jean, inspired by an old movie about Joan Of Arc, cuts her hair, changes her whole persona and begins making her own demands for justice. But can a bunch of kids really stand up to the long arm of the law?

"I'm Billie Jean Davy, and I wanna set the record straight..."

  • A-Team Firing: A wannabe Bounty Hunter trying to Pop the Tires with his rifle puts two bullets through the heroes' windshield first.
  • Abusive Parents: Putter's mom, and the father of a little boy, Kenny, that Billie Jean rescues both hit their kids.
  • Attempted Rape: A leering Mr. Pyatt offers to repay the six hundred to Billie Jean and Binx with installments, in exchange for...well, he calls it "lessons." She resists, and it turns into a struggle, which ends up with Binx intervening and shooting him in the shoulder by accident.
  • Bathos: Putter getting her first period is both played for drama and comedy.
  • Big Sister Instinct: It's never said who's older but the plot is kicked off by Billie Jean sticking up for her brother. Binx also has instinct for his sister, threatening Mr Pyatt with a gun when he tries to rape her.
  • Big Eater: Putter loves junk food, often complains about being hungry, and fantasizes about what fancy food they might find when the kids are contemplating breaking into a house for supplies.
  • Big "NO!": Billie Jean when Binx gets shot.
  • Bitch Alert: Putter's mother whose introduction is an offscreen "where were you!" followed by a slap to the face.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Billie Jean is blonde, Putter is brunette and Ophelia is redhead.
  • Brick Joke: Binx and Billie Jean talk about Vermont at the start, and Binx wants to run away to Vermont after they shoot Mr Pyatt. They're shown taking a vacation there at the end.
  • Call-Back: Billie Jean is inspired by the scene of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake. A statue of Billie Jean is burned once the truth is exposed.
  • Catchphrase: "Fair is fair!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: Putter's marbles, which she packs as they run away. She uses them to delay the police when escaping from the mall.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Billie Jean and her friends break into Lloyd's house, Lloyd (wearing a monster mask) sneaks up on them, startling her into a Groin Attack. While the guy's still gasping for breath, she berates him for scaring her without seeming to realize that she was the one breaking into his house.
  • Consummate Liar:
    • As Mr. Pyatt himself said:
      Mr. Pyatt: Hubie and the truth have a way of not gettin' along with each other.
    • Of course, where do you think Hubie got it from? Mr. Pyatt masterfully bullshits the police and his Billie Jean-loving clients the whole movie, until Billie Jean exposes him in front of hundreds of fans, who promptly burn all the merchandise.
  • Corpsing: In-Universe. Lloyd tries to record a fake hostage message but can't stop laughing at what he's saying.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Putter likes to curse a lot, which is a little startling as she's the baby of the group.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Hubie steals Binx's scooter, trashes it, and beats Binx to a pulp when he tries to get it back...all because Binx threw a milkshake on him for catcalling Billie Jean.
  • Dye or Die: Subverted. Billie Jean cuts her hair (see Important Haircut below) while on the run, but then immediately films a video of herself with her new hairstyle and sends it to the police.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Hubie was disgusted when he realized that his father really did attempt to rape Billie Jean. He smiled when Billie Jean stood up to Pyatt in the climax and joined the rest of the onlookers in walking away from him..
  • Fanservice:
    • Billie Jean is showing lazing on a float in the creek while wearing a tiny cut-off tank top and bikini bottom. In the DVD Commentary, Yeardley Smith asks Helen Slater if she felt exploited doing the swimming-hole scene. Helen replies, "I'll never look that good again."
    • Of course, in the same scene there's also a young, buff Christian Slater in soaking-wet surf jams
    • Much of the film's latter third takes place on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas, during a summer heatwave. There are a lot of toned beach-bodies on display.
  • Finger in the Mail: The group's volunteer hostage Lloyd jokes about this in his ransom video: "Daddy, just remember: if you get someone's ear in the mail, it's mine."
  • Girlish Pigtails: Putter has these to establish her as the baby of the group.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: The teens are actually smarter than you'd think, or at least Billie Jean is with most of their problems being solved by her quick thinking.
  • Groin Attack: To the point of being a running gag. Billie Jean knees Hubie in the groin after he beats up her brother. She gives Lloyd one for sneaking up on her, And in her big standoff at the end with Mr. Pyatt, she gives him an even bigger one.
  • Here We Go Again!: The trouble starts over Binx's beloved red scooter. In the final scene, he's admiring a red snowmobile, implying that he's discovered his new obsession.
  • Hollywood Healing: Subverted. Binx has visible bruises on his face throughout the film, having just gotten beaten up by Hubie before the plot starts.
  • Hollywood Hype Machine: Helen Slater was being groomed for a leading lady push in the early 80s, thanks to being cast as the title heroine of Supergirl. Unfortunately for her, the box office failures of that as well as Billie Jean saw her ending up in supporting roles and turning to television instead.
  • Hot-Blooded: That's Binx all over, and this tends to make bad situations worse.
  • Hypocrite: Mr Pyatt refuses to pay the $608 his son owes in damage to the scooter, after he gets shot. Yet he's still happy to sell merchandise of Billie Jean even though he tried to rape her.
  • I Am Spartacus: Several teenage girls turn themselves in to the police claiming to be Billie Jean, but Lt. Ringwald knows her and sends them home.
  • Important Haircut:
    • Billie Jean does this halfway through the movie. It serves two purposes: 1) the new look invokes comparisons to Joan Of Arc (more specifically, a Classic Hollywood depiction of her); and 2) it marks her shift from passive, fleeing Damsel in Distress to tough "We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore" badass (see Awesome Music in the YMMV tab). How important is this haircut? It becomes a huge local fad.
    • More soberingly, when Putter is struck by her own mother, the younger teen grabs some scissors, holds them up defiantly as if to ward off — or strike — another blow, and then grimly uses them to hack off her own hair.
  • Jeanne d'Arch├ętype: Billie Jean becomes a role model for teens in a similar manner to Joan of Arc. She even adopts her famous hairstyle inspired by a film depiction of Joan.
  • Jerkass:
  • Kick the Dog: When Billie Jean goes to turn herself in in exchange for the money owed for the scooter, Mr. Pyatt instead get Hubie to sneak-attack her right there in the mall. They couldn't not be Jerkasses for that one meeting? A furious Ringwald tears Pyatt a new one for that little stunt as everything could've ended right there.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: It'll be significantly harder for Mr. Pyatt to force himself on any other teenage girls with a bullet in his shoulder - courtesy of his own gun, that Binx took out of his cash register.
  • The Legend of X: Right there in the title, and slowly but surely, Billie Jean indeed becomes a Living Legend.
  • Let the Past Burn: In the end, it's not Billie Jean who's burned at the stake—it's her false image as an outlaw.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Putter after she gets her period.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Putter is this mixed with Cloud Cuckoo Lander.
  • Lots of Luggage: A scene contrasts Billie Jean's hasty-but-practical packing with Putter's (Billie Jean grabs a backpack of clothes and a sleeping bag, while Putter stuffs everything in her bedroom, including an aquarium full of marbles, into a duffle bag as big as she is).
  • Lovable Rogue: How tons of kids and teens in the Corpus Christi area see Billie Jean, with girls even adopting her hairstyle en masse. That said, Billie Jean herself is more of a Humble Hero. Her fame isn't something she really asked for, or embraces to a significant degree - she and Binx just got themselves into a bad situation that spiraled out of control. Indeed all she wants is the money to repair her brother's scooter from Pyatt directly and she would turn herself in quietly. She is, however, grateful for the support, especially since her fans pay dividends in the third act.
  • Lower-Class Lout: How the Pyatts try to paint Billie Jean and Binx in order to win sympathy. At one point Hubie tells his father not to believe Billie Jean's version of events because "she's from the trailers!"
  • Mood Whiplash: During the initial frantic getaway scene where the characters have been framed for theft and attempted murder and are on the run, Ophelia abruptly tries to stop for gas because she is using the car without asking her dad and he keeps track of how full the tank is.
  • Mouthy Kid: Putter's raison d'être.
    Putter: Hubie won't bring [the scooter] back.
    Ringwald: How do you know?
    Putter: 'Cause he's a fucker, that's how I know!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Well done, Binx, pointing a gun with the safety off right at Hubie's father.
    • Lloyd's father, bringing in the SWAT team that shoot Binx by accident.
  • No Periods, Period: Utterly averted; furthermore, the moment is simultaneously Played for Drama and for Laughs.
  • One-Steve Limit: No, this film is not about the Michael Jackson song, nor is it about Billie Jean King.
  • Police Are Useless: The scooter vandalism which sparks off the whole plot is dutifully reported to the local police, but they choose not to act. Subverted when the cop Billie Jean reports it to eventually ends up helping solve a lot of the mess.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Billie Jean, in her climactic confrontation with Mr. Pyatt, does a textbook example of this trope.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Putter takes Billie Jean's escape as an easy way of getting the hell away from her physically abusive mom.
  • Sixth Ranger: Lloyd joins the crew, passing himself off as a hostage, about halfway through the film.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Lt. Ringwald, who feels partially to blame for this mess (early in the film, Billie Jean came to him for help with the stolen scooter and he dismissed the whole thing as a prank). When things get serious, he mostly wants to put an end to it before someone ends up dead, and after dealing with the Pyatts, he suspects that something more might be behind the gang's flight. When Lloyd's D.A. father calls in sharpshooters for the hostage exchange, he's boiling mad at the risk that something might go wrong—and he's right.
  • Tagalong Kid: Putter appears to be much younger than the rest of the teens, young enough that she gets her first period in the course of the action. If she isn't, she's definitely a wee bit more immature than them, so she still fits.
  • Team Mom: Billie Jean fills this role for her friends at times. Obviously she's the Cool Big Sis for Binx.
  • The Theme Park Version: Billie Jean's followers who wear her t-shirts and cut their hair only do so because they think she's a cool rebel. When the truth comes out, all of them are disgusted at how she was exploited and burn all the merchandise.
  • Those Two Guys: Putter and Ophelia.
  • Toplessness from the Back: In the first scene, Billie Jean takes her shirt off while facing away from the camera as she changes for a scooter ride and is clearly not wearing a bra.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Taken quite literally as the gang sets up a public hostage exchange; Billie Jean wears a wig to infiltrate the crowd, and Binx wears a dress to impersonate Billie Jean.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Putter's mother. Her introduction is smacking her for coming home late.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Semi-example, with copious amounts of Never My Fault: Mr. Pyatt's gunshot wound, which he plays up for sympathy, is very real and was actually caused by those he accuses. Nonetheless, the trope is played straight as A) the gunshot was accidental yet he paints it as intentional; and B) he uses it as an excuse to persecute the heroes and also to downplay his and his son's own wrongdoings.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: While on the run, Billie Jean and her gang break into a home to steal food, shoplift toys to use during an amateur sting operation, and try to steal a car. For the toys, at least, Billie Jean leaves IOU notes.