Film note: Ode to Billy Joe

Ode to Billy Joe
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Directed by Max Baer, Jr
105 mins, USA, 1976

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Director Max Baer, Jr (Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies) delays almost forever any climax, sexual and otherwise, in this teenage Southern melodrama from 1976. He keeps the sexuality mostly suggestive and at a slow, slow boil. The narrative is helped along by some snappy, salacious, and sometimes comically over-written dialogue (appropriately scripted by Herman Raucher, who also wrote the screenplay for the autobiographical Summer of ’42) between the title character, played by a gloriously twinky-cute and sweaty Robby Benson, and his love interest/beard, Bobbie Lee, played by a sweet and not-so-innocent-looking Glynnis O’Connor.

If you know the Bobbie Gentry song the movie is based on, don’t think you know the whole story. In filling in some of the blanks, the movie is pretty ballsy for the 70s (it was a hit even) and not only kept my interest but the poignant coda moved me, as Bobbie Lee decides to leave home rather than give away Billy Joe’s secret. Suitcase in hand, she encounters Billy’s disruptive one-night stand and has a very adult conversation with him on the bridge — that bridge — on her way out of town and into some other kind of life — stronger in her broken places than Billy ever was, we can’t help but imagine.

Written with StackEdit.

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