Every school has a kid that’s just a little left of center. There’s usually a plethora of reasons as to why this kid is the way he is (abusive parents, difficult home life, mental issues, just plain wacky) but that’s not the point. The point is that by not fitting in with the others, this kid is generally ostracized as he or she sets themselves up for ridicule and a scholastic lifetime of painful embarrassment. Billy, the title character in Jennifer Venditti’s terrific doc “Billy the Kid” is one of those types of kids.
While we’re never quite sure what’s wrong with him, Billy is an odd duck. As he fixates on normal teen interests like action and horror flicks as well as heavy metal music, it’s the way he interacts with others that is so painfully awkward and sadly watchable. A good example of this occurs in the film when Billy happens upon a group of pre-teen boys riding their bikes. Billy himself is right around14 years old in the film. At once we feel like this is a group of kids more his speed and sure enough, the group hits it off with Billy. But then he launches into a conversation about how “Friday the 13th” is his favorite movie and the newfound relationship sort of falls apart from there. This happens over and over throughout the film as Billy tries to connect with others and fails in a bevy of ways. While it borders on exploitative, there’s also that Sisyphus feeling of seeing someone roll a rock up a hill, nearly reach the top and then have it roll back down, squashing them in the process. But what makes “Billy the Kid” so great is, Billy never stops trying to reach the top of the hill.
“Billy the Kid” isn’t all hope and roses. Billy himself has some serious rage issues that seem to date back to his abusive birth father. Billy’s mother is a wonderful woman who does the best she can with her difficult son, but one has to wonder about the choices she’s made over the years. While on one had it’s nice to see a woman who has total and utter belief that her son will overcome his obstacles, it’s also sad to see someone struggle alone while we all sort of know Billy’s issues need more than faith to heal. The film does leave you with a sense of hope, but it’s also really sad to see a person who is just on another wavelength than those around him.
Those are just small asides to a great film and I don’t feel those issues cloud the experience on the whole. Venditti is allowed total access to Billy and his world and she just lets him run with it when the camera is on. I like the fact that all the kids at Billy’s high school who think they’re so much better than him were undoubtedly shocked that their favorite target of ridicule was being documented as if on his own reality show. “Billy the Kid” is like a snapshot into the life of a social outcast and it’s a great film. We see the good sides and the ugly side but it’s the honest sides of both that make the film work.