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Reel Critic:

Charming look at a new ‘Billy the Kid’

February 16, 2008|By Jeff Klemzak

Not to be confused with the infamous gunfighter from the 1880s, the Billy of this compelling documentary, “Billy the Kid,” is an eccentric teenager growing up in rural Maine and struggling to find his place in the world.

When we first encounter Billy Pierce, we see what appears to be an awkward young man who seems socially inept, terribly unfocused and who also doesn’t appear to be the brightest bulb in the room. A few of those impressions pan out, but the one concerning his intellect certainly does not.

Subsequent to the filming and prior to the release of this film, Billy was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that affects social skills and is usually associated with those of very high intelligence. A good example of a person afflicted with Asperger’s might be the popularized persona of the geeky computer nerd.

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Director and producer Jennifer Venditti does an admirable job following Billy around his small New England town, capturing the many priceless moments facing the insecure teenager and his relationship to his limited world. My only complaint is with the technical aspect of her work. Some of the filming has an amateurish air about it, especially with lighting issues and the usual problems associated with hand-held cameras.

The film is reasonably well edited, and I particularly enjoyed the moments on screen between Billy and his warm-hearted mother Penny, who seems to be always there for him when he needs her attention. She has a very endearing way of soothing Billy’s frustrations as he stumbles his way through adolescence.

Billy often mentions his affection for his stepfather, a local radio personality who unfortunately never appears in the film. It is explained near the end of this documentary that the stepfather has tired of the frigid New England winters and has taken a job in Florida, but it doesn’t really add up and definitely needs more explanation.

Sweetly presented is Billy’s first romance with a waitress, a year older than he, who is working part time in a local cafe. His youthful intensity unfortunately drives the poor girl away, but after a frustrating few days, Billy comes to realize, with the help of his mom, that youthful affairs of the heart come and go, and he holds no hard feelings over it.

Director Venditti carries us through Billy’s various aspirations as they pass back and forth through his consciousness. One day he sees himself as a local superhero who would rid his town of thuggish drunks like his biological father who apparently at one time had assaulted Billy’s mother. The next day he is strumming a guitar, pretending to be a rock star performing onstage to a gaggle of frenzied young ladies.

For those who enjoy documentaries, this film is more than worthwhile. I must admit, though, that I relived some of my more forgettable high school days as I watched Billy plow through so many of his own awkward moments. Hail to thee, Jennifer Venditti.

“Billy the Kid” is unrated by the MPAA and runs for approximately 90 minutes. It is in limited release.


?JEFF KLEMZAK of La Crescenta particularly enjoys documentaries. ?JEFF KLEMZAK of La Crescenta particularly enjoys documentaries.

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