Billy the Kid
Directed by Jennifer Venditti
Some people are so old, they seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be young. Such must be the case of Variety film critic John Anderson, who’s recent review of Jennifer Venditti’s wonderful documentary Billy the Kid places the films title character, a socially awkward teen with a troubled past, in the same mental and social category as the Virginia Tech shooter. Such a sensational remark simply supports the fact that kids like this are completely misunderstood, as demonstrated by Anderson’s comments as well as the gaggle of students who refuse to sit with Billy at lunch time. Luckily, for the rest of us, Jennifer Venditti’s film is a touching reminder of awkward first dates and teenage heart break.
Shot in a verite style over the course of five days, the film follows Billy as he walks around town, sometimes in a karate gi, mingling with the locals and making new friends. Eventually he finds his way into a small diner, intent on introducing himself to Heather, a 16 year old visually impared girl who he can’t stop thinking about. We watch as he woos her with some Tim Allen trivia, gradually winning her heart with his awkward yet articulate conversation skills. Eventually a crush becomes an infatuation and for the first time in his life, Billy learns what it feels like to be in love. We spend some time at Billy’s high school, witnessing some moments of unusual interaction among students. One kid suggest Billy drop the rat tail, to which he replies ‘I’m gonna look like Gene Simmons…Of course one of the guys that inspired me to wear a pony tail was Steven Segal. The other is my own step dad.’
Throughout the film Billy spouts off cryptic references to his biological Father and their troubled past, which are eventually expanded upon by his Mother. Drug use and theft eventually tore the family apart as Billy’s behavioral condition grew more extreme. (It was discovered after filming was complete that Billy had Asburgers, a mild form of Autism) Eventually a step father would enter the picture, proving to be a loving addition to the family, although curiously not present throughout the film. Perhaps Anderson’s comparison to school shooters emerged from a scene in which Billy’s Mother discusses his interest in serial killers. After signing out a number of books on the subject from the school library, she was notified. To me, this is nothing more than a sign of the times we live in rather than a comment on Billy’s social skills.
There have been questions raised regarding the authenticity of some of the moments throughout this film. For those looking, multiple angles may scream ‘set up!’. Of course, anyone shooting a single camera documentary will get as much coverage as possible, shooting hours and hours of footage. Believe it or not, through the magic of editing, such things as multiple angles can be achieved. It did seem to me that the time line of the story was somewhat manipulated, but does it really matter? I suppose there’s those folks who watch a documentary like Billy the Kid to scrutinize and poke holes. It’s the more fortunate viewers who came for inspired story telling and competent film making that simply get to sit back and watch something unique.
This film may not be for everyone. It reminds me of a gentler, LESS exploitive, real life version of a Harmony Korine picture. (Minus Werner Herzog in a gas mask) Although Billy the Kid does have a slight dark undercurrent, for the most part it’s completely washed away by a burdgeoning love story that reflects Billy’s sensitive side, and ultimately placed this film in my top five of this year.