Bad Movies We Love: Billy Madison
I won't see Adam Sandler's new joint Jack and Jill because I'm a thinking organism, but my defiance is worthless: I've already watched Billy Madison enough times to line Opera Man's pockets with box office dollars for life. He already wins. The mid '90s marked a renaissance in vulgar, idiotic kid comedies (Dumb and Dumber, Tommy Boy, etc), and Sandler's breakthrough Billy Madison -- which barely earned back its $20 million budget -- remains the best of the bunch. Let's jump back in time and yell "O'Doyle rules!" at this loud old gem.
Billy Madison is the rather quaint story of a deadbeat twentysomething (Sandler), who is only allowed to take over his father's (Darren McGavin) hotel business once he repeats elementary, middle, and high school in the span of 24 weeks -- two weeks per grade. This means Billy has to win a second grade spelling bee, survive junior high terrors, and pass 10th grade science tests with flying colors. Though he completes the tasks, scheming money-grubber Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford) challenges Billy to a battle of wits at film's end to seal the deal. Can spoiled rich kid Billy get off his innertube and prevail?
As you may have gleaned, this is a stupid movie. In the words of the film itself, "Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it." But it overrules your better judgment, tests your immaturity at every turn, and manages to be ridiculously, often maniacally funny. These five moments from Billy Madison prove that even if our movie hero is an obnoxious halfwit, there's still room for weird, dark humor to subvert the kid comedy mold:
5. Billy's musical fantasia
Adam Sandler movies are known for their dream sequences -- the sight of Julie Bowen brandishing beer steins in Happy Gilmore is one I won't soon forget -- but Billy Madison tops them all with a lip-synced, Broadway-style musical number that Ryan Murphy might envy (or hate, better yet). After Billy's third grade teacher-cum-girlfriend Veronica (Brigitte Wilson-Sampras, who also costarred in the famous Bad Movie We Love I Know What You Did Last Summer) slugs Billy for slacking off, he thanks her for waking him up with this magnificent opus. "Thank you, Veronica, for beating the shit out of me" is the new "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius," and it's glorious watching the sun to shine upon Billy and his burnout friends with the power of a thousand hippie anthems.
4. Steve Buscemi jump-starts a career in creepiness
Billy Madison is dark and daring around the edges. Take for instance Steve Buscemi's unbilled performance as Billy's old high school foe Danny McGrath; Billy phones Danny to apologize for terrorizing him as a teenager, and Danny nonchalantly accepts. Then, after putting the phone down, Danny leans over and crosses Billy's name off a hit list. Extreme! And it only gets chillier once Danny coats his mouth with pink lipstick right after. What a fine prelude to the grim woodchipper drama that Buscemi would give us soon after Billy Madison.
3. To pee or not to pee
I was surprised to find upon reviewing that Billy Madison is a very sweet movie too. Billy sympathizes with his classmates of varying ages, and if he's not pummeling them with dodge balls during recess, he's often acting as their buffoonish, but loving babysitter. When his pal Ernie wets himself on a field trip, Billy announces that "peeing your pants is cool" and makes a fad of the accident in front of the class. All I'll say is an ensuing line about Miles Davis is just about the funniest thing in the movie, or ever, or forever. I can't help it. Brings new meaning to the term "Bitches Brew."
2. Our Miss Lippy
Speaking of bizarre characters: Billy's first-grade teacher is a loopy, pigtailed grownup named Miss Lippy. She's as suspiciously perky as any daycare provider, but Billy Madison has the guts to address her sinister pep with freaky detail. When Billy comes in early from recess one afternoon, he discovers the giddy Lippy dancing erratically to sitar music like an acid-dropping grandmother at Burning Man. Later, Billy finds her covering her face in glue. Maybe my own childhood curiosity about the weirdness of smiley people is coming into play here, but I swear this gushy lady is funnier than 100 percent of Caddyshack.
1. Billy fields "the ultimate insult"
When Billy faces off in an "academic decathlon" against Eric at film's end, a moderator asks him to compose an essay answer to a question about the Industrial Revolution. At first Billy is clueless, but soon he pieces together an impassioned response that references one of Miss Lippy's prized children's books -- The Puppy Who Lost His Way by supermodel Krissy Taylor (who literally died months after this movie's release). His answer is thorough, but the moderator -- who, so far, has deadpanned that his wife is a "dirty, dirty tramp" -- tears down Billy's moment of power with the most damning, hilarious monologue about failure I've seen since Gene Wilder barked "Good day, sir!" during Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Perhaps I need to retake kindergarten myself, but this is so much funnier than it has any right to be. May God have mercy on my soul.
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