BILLY THE KID

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Posted October 22, 2008 in The Small Screen

There comes a point in your teen years when most can’t help but feel hopelessly alone and different. That point when you’re not a kid anymore, but you’re not an adult and people treat you—to varying degrees —like both. Hormonal collisions, acne breakouts and heartbreaks, social awkwardness, the weight of the future—the whole nine yards. Billy the Kid, a slice of life documentary and directorial debut by Jennifer Venditti, captures such a moment in misfit Maine teenager Billy Price’s life so perfectly that it’s almost painful to watch. Billy’s a little odd, a little more than just average teenager odd, but we’re not told exactly what’s wrong with him. That directorial decision turns out to be sort of significant. On a DVD, you are privileged to look into a director’s choices, and in the special features, Venditti talks about why she changed her mind about revealing the exact nature of Billy’s disability (early screenings contained an end card revealing his condition), and while she’s right that knowing said diagnosis sets Billy apart from us, to ignore it calls into question the overall veracity of the film and Venditti’s motives in making it. It also changes things. She exalts Billy as a boy who consciously chooses non-conformity, but you’re left wondering if he really has any choice at all given the entire situation. It’s not a horrible misstep—the movie is still a pleasure to watch—but if directing is about choices, then a surer directorial hand would have found a way to give us the truth about Billy, while simultaneously keeping our connection to his plight. Ryan Gosling’s commentary with Venditti is also baffling, but sort of interesting. (Red Vaughn)

Zeitgeist Films, 85 minutes
Release date: October 28


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