Billy the Kid

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve decided to spend some time this year catching up (as much as possible) on all of the movies and TV series I’ve missed in recent months, and last night, I finally caught Billy the Kid (IMDB), an intimate, observational documentary about Billy, a shy, awkward Maine teenager who has an unusual felicity with language, loves professional wrestling and heavy metal, and, of course, girls.  Jennifer Venditti, the director, wisely avoids treating Billy as a case study–she mentions in the DVD extras that Billy had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a detail that is not revealed during the film–and instead focuses on the awkwardness and discomfort of teenage life, especially when you experience yourself as an outsider, someone who doesn’t always fit in.

Billy’s verbal habits–a fascinating mix of self-help discourse, fantasy novel romanticism, and SAT-prep vocabulary–combine to create someone who is unusually articulate.  We also witness someone who has developed an overarching sense of chivalry; when Billy plays a first-person shooter video game, he comments that he won’t shoot female characters out of a desire to protect women.  At the same time, we learn through fleeting references of Billy’s own guilt about not protecting his mother when she had been in an abusive relationship.

But instead of imposing an interpretation onto Billy, the film chooses to observe as he experiences many of pleasures and challenges of growing up, with the main storyline focusing on his initially tentative and then somewhat rushed pursuit of Heather, a local girl who works in the small-town diner where Billy lives.  These awkward moments–getting Heather’s phone number, talking to her parents in the diner–present a sometimes painful depiction of adolescence that will seem familiar to pretty much anyone.

Billy the Kid has been out for a while–it won one of the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors awards for best debut feature back in April 2008–but due to a number of circumstances, I’m just now getting around to seeing it, but I wanted to mention it, however briefly, here because Venditti provides an intimate portrait of a compelling individual trying to make sense of his world.  I know the film has been criticized to some extent for not getting very far outside of Billy’s perspective, other than one very brief interview with an awkwardly giggling Heather, but I think the film was wise to avoid imposing interpretations from others in Billy’s life because it shows that Venditti trusts her audience enough to see the challenges that Billy is facing and to make sense of how he’s learning to negotiate the small-town Maine community where he lives.

5 Comments »

  1. G Said,

    January 5, 2009 @ 1:03 am

    Hi Chuck,
    Thanks for your review, that movie sounds interesting. Can it be watched online? I haven’t seen it in theaters.

  2. Chuck Said,

    January 5, 2009 @ 1:14 am

    It’s available on DVD. I ordered it from Netflix. I’d imagine a good indie video store would have it, too.

  3. Joanna Said,

    January 7, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    I’ll have to get that through Netflix. I just finished reading “Look Me In the Eye”, a memir by a man with Asperger’s Syndrome who was only diagnosed in his forties, and who happens to be Augusten Bourroghs’ older brother. He also has a blog here:http://jerobison.blogspot.com/

  4. Joanna Said,

    January 7, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

    Oh, it turns out he did some interviews that may be part of the special features on the DVD: http://jerobison.blogspot.com/2008/10/billy-kid-is-available-on-dvd.html

  5. Chuck Said,

    January 7, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    Thanks for the links. Robison’s comments about participating in the production and promotion of Billy the Kid are especially interesting. Since the original link doesn’t seem to be working here is the link to Robison’s main blog page.

    I returned the DVD before checking out the special features. May have to go back and take a second look.

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