As much as I want to believe my sense of humor mature along with my progression in chronological age, I always always find myself laughing with equal fervor when confronted with a movie that so entertained in my youth. While I wish I could say that I can no longer recite by heart those movies that cracked me up in my childhood, that is simply not the case. If anything, the quotations get further ingrained into my brain with each passing year. I think it's some sort of late-developing side effect from the original branding process.
Such is the case with Billy Madison, which I happened to catch a 30-minute chunk of on TV this weekend while waiting for some friends to arrive. When I selected the film from the innumerable channel offerings on my boyfriend's digital cable listing, I assumed I'd have outgrown the movie's juvenile humor that so delighted my fifth-grade self. Unfortunately for my ego's sense of wisdom and sophistication, I was dead wrong. Within minutes, I was laughing out loud and had completely abandoned any previous pretension about maturity and humor. How could I uphold such a standard when confronted with an image of Miss Lippy eating paste? How, I ask you?
Oh, and speaking of Miss Lippy, her car is green. Did you know? You can buy this nostalgia-rich tee shirt at Look at Me Shirts
It would take a man of steel with a heart of lead to avoid snorting with laughter at a scene like that. Or at least a far less childish sense of humor. I haven't decided which one. For the sake of what's left of my so-called adult pride, I'm going to go with the first one.
Sure, it's a stupid movie. That's probably why it appealed to so many of us as children. As an alleged grown-up, I'm often shocked at the tepid or even straight-up poor critical reception that greeted some of my favorite childhood films. Than again, critics have a habit of being self-important snobs, so it makes all the more sense that whatever they pan would be greedily consumed by unquestioning children. Right? I'm glad you're coming with me on that one.
For those of us who grew up during Sandler's Saturday Night Live days, we had come to expect a certain level of child-friendly humor from him. That's not to say it was appropriate, but more that he was, let's say, in touch with his inner child and it frequently manifested itself in his outwardly childish portrayals of his characters. It was this quality that made him so well-matched to the role of the eponymous overgrown spoiled-rotten under-educated child in Billy Madison.
Billy Madison is certainly not for everyone, I'll give you that. The plot is not only far-fetched but teeters on the edge of completely ridiculous. It's not really meant to make any sort of sense, though; it's meant to be fun. You certainly can't deny that everyone involved in this film seems to be having a grand old time. If you still have yet to comprehend the juvenile nature of the film, here's the theatrical trailer to help you out. Hint: it begins with a loud farting noise. Classy, no?
Like I said, it's not for everyone, but it certainly still makes me laugh. It was the perfect film for children and teens largely on the basis of its incredible quotability. Nearly everything out of everyone's mouth is so ridiculous most of us were certain it bore repeating. Our parents may not have cracked a smile after the first or second time, but you could bet our buddies on the playground would still be rolling in the sandbox after our forty-second go.
At the beginning of the movie, we meet Billy Madison, the errant son of a wealthy hotel chain owner. He spends his reckless yet undeniably enjoyable days wreaking havoc with his deadbeat friends all over the sprawling Madison estate. We get a good sense of his intellectual capacity in this little bath time exchange, during which he contemplates the relative merits of shampoo versus conditioner. No doubt a highly taxing debate:
I can't even begin to count how many times I heard my classmates say, "Stop looking at me, SWAN!" I'm willing to bet it registers in the quadruple digits, far outstripping the counting abilities of Mr. Madison himself. Either way, I still think the answer to this age-old debate is conditioner.
Billy's father has decided he can tolerate no more after Billy's ridiculously inappropriate outburst of gibberish at a critical business dinner. It's no wonder he opts not to make Billy the future proprietor of his business after these certifiable antics:
Needless to say, Billy is pissed. His dad's choice is Eric, a conniving, weaselish little man who is admittedly less than virtuous. Billy swears he handle the responsibility, but his dear old dad lets it slip that he bribed Billy's teachers into passing him, thus making his whole education a sham. After some questionable compromising, they agree that if Billy can pass every grade from kindergarten to 12th in two weeks apiece, he can earn his birthright.
Billy was unsurprisingly at ease in kindergarten with the aforementioned Miss Lippy, finally feeling at home with his intellectual equals. Unfortunately for them, he's a tad profane for their milk-cookies-and-naptime lifestyles.
Billy scoots through his first few grades, naturally throwing a huge unwarranted party after each grade advancement. It's in second grade that we meet our heroine, the lovely Miss Veronica Vaughn played by Brigitte Wilson. She also totally played bimbo Ginger in Saved by the Bell. Neat, right?:
At least Billy finally makes a friend, nerdy third grader Ernie. On a field trip to some sort of colonial farm, Ernie pees his pants. In Billy's first real moment of good-heartedness, he pretends he too peed his pants, passing it off as cool. It's all pretty sweet until the elderly colonial field trip guide says, "If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis!" Yech. Oh, this scene also features an overblown Chris Farley with a sweet comb-over. Can you beat that?
Billy's progressing nicely, much to the chagrin of the villainous Eric. Unfortunately, he's not quite as popular in high school as he was in elementary school. While his lame jokes easily earned him the respect of third graders, they failed to have the same effect on his teenage peers. His crack during biology, "Chlorophyll? More like borophyll!" didn't do much to bolster his status. He even fails to escape the long line of O'Doyle family bullies, who seem to have enough kids to opress Billy every step of the way. Observe, a montage:
Eric conveniently knows some blackmail-worthy dirt on the elementary school principal and forces him to publicly state that Billy bribed him into passing him. Unnerved and outraged by this serious setback, Billy eventually gives in and reverts to his former slacker self. Despite numerous pleas from those who have seen him better himself through his educational exploits, Billy remains unmoved. Veronica eventually throws his drunk ass in the pool and tries to literally knock some sense into him via physical violence. This seems to jar Billy back to his motivation, and they all do a lovely little musical number. Sandler gets to showcase his Operaman chops and Wilson (Veronica) gets to dress like the St. Pauli Girl. Hey, everyone wins!
Billy keeps studying and agrees to face off with Eric in an academic decathlon. In a moment of pure ridiculousness, Billy offers an answer to a question about the Industrial Revolution by citing his kindergarten story of the puppy who lost his way. This tongue-in-cheek allusion to a convenient full circle feel-good ending is met with a big fat zero points, and a pretty serious verbal chastisement from the distressed host.
Billy Madison - Industrial Revolution Puppy
Eric is just about to clinch the whole thing when he flips out and brandishes a gun at the crowd. Fortunately for Billy, an unexpected guest arrives also wiedling a gun: his ex-classmate (played by Steve Buscemi) whom Billy had called earlier in the film to apologize to for his teasing. Everyone loves a movie with Steve Buscemi, right? It means you get to like a whole lot of movies. Stevie shoots a non-fatal shot at Eric, and we can all rejoice. Hooray!
At his graduation, Billy decides not to take over the company after all but to hand over the reins to his father's more subdued and ethical colleague Carl. Billy announces that inspired by his experience, he will now be heading to college to become a teacher. All together now: awww.
Okay, okay, I'll concede it's not the most brilliant comedic masterpiece to ever pass through theaters. Sure, it's not earth-shattering in any way. It didn't create peace in the middle east or bring high-speed internet connections to the shantytowns of undeveloped countries. But hey, you have to admit, you'd rather watch this than Click or Bedtime Stories any day. Am I right?