review for The Legend of Billie Jean on AllMovie

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
by Brian J. Dillard review

This teen flick-cum-parable is probably best remembered for spawning Pat Benatar's hit theme song, kicking off Christian Slater's celluloid career, and introducing the world to the voice of Lisa Simpson. However, The Legend of Billie Jean is actually an overlooked '80s gem whose working-class, trailer-dwelling, proto-feminist protagonist is a lot more heroic than actress Helen Slater's previous star turn in Supergirl. The best thing about this film is the sympathetic but rarely condescending eye it casts on the poor, picked-on but proud folks who live on the wrong side of the tracks in Corpus Christi, TX. Though unrelated, Helen Slater and Christian Slater slide with equal ease into the roles of siblings Binx and Billie Jean Davy, he the impetuous little scrapper, and she the goodhearted older sis. The supporting cast is even better, from Keith Gordon as rich proto-alternateen Lloyd to underrated comic actress Martha Gehman as Ophelia, the "Billie Jean Gang's" no-nonsense getaway driver. The most distinctive role, however, belongs to future Simpsons performer Yeardley Smith, whose foul-mouthed adolescent character, Putter, gets the best laughs. The likelihood of a white-trash Texas girl becoming America's voice of the people may be slim, but the filmmakers do a great job of describing how it would actually play out, from the Madonna-style wannabes who emulate Billie Jean's androgynous 'do to the "just plain folks" who share their opinions in simulated eyewitness interviews. Perhaps the film's excellent storytelling is the result of its pedigree; director Matthew Robbins and producers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal are all screenwriters; Robbins, for instance, penned The Sugarland Express, another excellent tale of Texas outlaws. These filmmakers conspired to give their popcorn flick a thoughtful side, a sense of humor, and a dose of low-income girl power -- qualities that have held up years after the teen zeitgeist has moved on.