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Billy the Kid (2007)
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by brianorndorf

"An anti-'Juno' pill"
5 stars

Billy Price is a gawky 10th grader living in small-town Maine. He’s a purple belt in karate, allergic to penicillin, and loves his KISS. Upon quick inspection, he’s the everyday teenager: itchy in his skin, bold in his proclamations, and always two jittery inches away from total frustration. “Billy the Kid” doesn’t itemize this boy’s entire life, but merely the special, often excruciating moments he lives inside of. Billy is an extraordinary young man, and Jennifer Venditti’s splendidly observant documentary is a spectacular slice of cinema.

The most polarizing quality of “Billy the Kid” is that we don’t get to spend much time with the star of the show. The documentary is only a window to Billy’s life: a confined space in which he adores his mother, mourns his dead pets, and struggles with childhood urges now losing their social appeal with his introduction to the perils of teendom. Billy has psychological issues, leading to a somewhat volatile nature and the need for special schooling, but it’s not recognized in the film (recently, Billy was diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome). “Kid” presents Billy as is, assuming a verite approach to documenting this idiosyncratic young man.

Perhaps because I’m used to puckered Hollywood depictions of adolescence, “Kid” struck me down with its reality. Billy feels the chill of being a social outcast, can’t quite process defeat, and is headstrong with his ideas on violence towards those he loves. It’s a life of constant experience and Venditti is there to capture just a swallow of Billy’s whirlwind mind. What’s presented in “Kid” are a string of observational pearls, all focused on Billy and how he processes such elemental emotions as love and rejection. Venditti doesn’t push anything; she allows space for Billy to be Billy, catching the shrapnel of his brainstorms, and stitching together a film that preserves the teen years with stomach-churning accuracy. Billy has an unusual psychological background, but his messy efforts to fit in with peers, thirst to rock out to “God of Thunder” in his bedroom, and search for attainable romance are experiences universal to us all.

His object of affection is Heather: a shy, lovely 16 year-old living with nystagmus, who Billy brazenly anoints his queen. She works at the local diner and, in between sips of Coke and fistfuls of fries, Billy’s woo is quite formidable. The Heather saga eats up most of “Kid,” offering a narrative of sorts, while also showcasing the rainbow of Billy’s machine-gun emotions. When Heather is receptive to his unfailingly polite advances, Billy hovers inches off the ground, fueled on pure boner bliss. When a monkey wrench is thrown into the courtship, Billy is shattered, heaving himself into seclusion and wallowing in soul-wrenching torture. It’s the end of his world. It’s an arduous process to watch the kid suffer through, even when his scatterbrain urgency leads to social faux pas hilarity, such as Billy explaining to Heather’s step-father how much he loves sadistic slasher films, or the casual mention while watching “Home Improvement” that Tim Allen was once busted for drug dealing. Billy’s loose tongue can be abrasive, but Venditti is quick to show Billy’s askew sense of humor as well.

“Billy the Kid” doesn’t put forward many answers: Billy’s biological dad was a crack addict and quickly out of the picture, Billy’s mother is a patient soul who can’t quite contain her son’s enthusiasm like she once was able to, and the resolution of the Heather story is given only the lightest kiss of closure. However, we’re only visiting Billy, and to feel around for the edges of the picture would be doing a disservice to Venditti’s vision of awkward teen majesty and Billy’s episodic life. “Billy the Kid” is an unforgettable, distressing, riveting snapshot of a boy and his world; a high-speed descent into pure impulse that should not be missed.

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originally posted: 02/02/08 10:35:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 28-Oct-2008


  DVD: 28-Oct-2008

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