Billy Madison is an idiotic movie.
Luckily, it knows. It’s self-aware of its stupidity. Because of this, it possesses a don’t-give-a-fuck ethos, knowing that none of this matters, which allows for absurdity. The absurdist humor is what makes the movie work. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of it, and it veers off into the cheap and easy. The cheap and easy that fuels the shithead “large adult son” of today, something Jia Tolentino writes about in The New Yorker.
I know delving this deep runs the risk of trying to make something so stupid seem more important than it is. I know none of the above matters for the demographic for which this movie was made. That demo being the immature 12 to, let’s say, 15 year-old. The problem is, an older group — dudes in the vein of Billy himself — seems to have latched on to this, as well. And thus, we have the “large adult son” problem. And this problem complicates my appreciation of the movie.
For instance, let’s look at Donald Trump Jr. In February of 1995, when this movie was released, he was seventeen years old.
Here he is with a sweet haircut, serenading his shithead father. Source: Washington Post
The similarities between Billy Madison and Donnie Jr. are obvious and it would be tedious to list them all. (Rich, entitled, immature, white, etc…) Let’s just assume Junior saw the movie when it came out in ’95. And let’s just assume that he also noticed these similarities between Billy and himself — but to him, these similarities weren’t anything to be ashamed of. Instead, these similarities made him stop and think, “Dude, this movie is so relatable… I think it may be my favorite movie…”
So, yes, I believe that Billy Madison is Donald Trump Jr.’s favorite movie. I have no proof of this and a google search of “Donald Trump Jr. favorite movie” yielded nothing for me. But I stand firm on this. And, sure, for a seventeen-year-old dude, it’s a somewhat understandable favorite movie…? Not trying to defend it, but still — if I heard a seventeen-year-old guy say Billy Madison was his favorite movie, I’d shrug and be like, “Eh, whatever.” The problem is, it doesn’t seem to have stopped being Junior’s favorite movie. In fact, I’d say it’s shaped him…
Billy Madison gave birth to Donald Trump, Jr.
And all the rest of these “large adult sons” and man-children we have running around (and running the country). When Junior got himself into a bit of sticky situation when it was revealed that he had this meeting with a Russian lawyer, the response from his orange Papa Bear? “He’s a good boy. He’s a good kid.”
I know we’ve all heard enough about this and plenty has been written about it, so I’ll just say this: you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. This asshole’s gonna be 40 at the end of the year.
But it’s so Billy Madison — Billy’s a good kid, let’s just let him go back to school, grades 1-12, so he can be in charge of a huge Hilton-like hotel company. He’s a good boy — he deserves it, even though he’s already 28. He’s a good little champ, of course he gets the girl in the end despite continuing to act like a six-year-old.
But here’s the thing: Billy Madison gets away with it because it’s a movie. And that’s why I let it off the hook, even if it is Donnie Jr.’s favorite; even if it has birthed and shaped the man-children of today. (There’s even a radio host in San Antonio who actually goes by the name Billy Madison and did something very man-child-like when the women-only screenings of Wonder Woman got a bunch of dudes’ undies in a bunch.)
Why else do I let it off the hook? Because of its absurdity that I mentioned above. Re-watching this movie recently, now that I’m far removed from the kid I was when I would watch this movie all the time, it obviously wasn’t as funny as I once found it. But guess which parts I still found funny — the random bits of stupidity and what-the-fuck-ness. And this surprised me because you would think that these would be the moments I would grow out of. These cartoon-ish, buffoon-ish, nonsensical bits.
But these bits are Airplane-like in their brilliant zaniness. Airplane is so good because it is so random and the humor has no effect on the narrative (I don’t even think there is a narrative in Airplane). These are the moments that make Billy Madison into the guilty pleasure that it is. Bradley Whitford’s antagonist, Eric, literally igniting in flames is a stand-out moment, for sure. It happens, and of course, the very next scene, Eric is alive and well, no burns whatsoever. Like I said, cartoon-brilliant. Like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff or getting crushed by anvil, only to pop back up a second later and continue his fruitless chasing of Roadrunner.
It’s Billy Madison‘s other side that I find dated and embarrassing. This is something that is touched on in this article by David Fear. The movie has a tendency to veer off into the cheap and easy frat-bro type of humor (humor that would be a sign of things to come for Adam Sandler). Moments like Billy being dared to touch Miss Vaughn’s boob and “accidentally” leaning into her to do so. It’s like, why is this funny? What’s the joke? There’s no thought put into moments like these. It’s almost as if these moments were put in to satiate the dudes like Trump Jr. They’d love this shit.
And they wouldn’t appreciate the elaborateness of some of these absurd jokes. The set-up and pay-off of the “O’Doyle rules” joke, or my favorite, Billy calling Steve Buscemi up to apologize for all the shit he did to him in high school, Buscemi crossing Billy off of a “To Kill” list, and then ultimately (and ridiculously) coming to Billy’s rescue at the end. Even if these moments are illogical, at least it’s clear that there has been thought put into the set-up and pay-off in order to elicit laughs.
So I’m confident in saying that Donald Trump Jr. and I enjoy Billy Madison for entirely different reasons. Therefore, he hasn’t ruined it for me. There’s plenty wrong with it — it’s a pretty shitty movie. But it can still make me laugh.