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Film review: 'Billy the Kid' a refreshing, honest documentary

Published: Friday, Jan. 11 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Billy attends class in "Billy the Kid," which follows the 15-year-old student, who is a bit of a misfit.

EightFilm/Isotope Films

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BILLY THE KID — *** — Documentary feature about a Maine teenager; not rated, probable PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs)

Jennifer Venditti, the maker of the documentary "Billy the Kid," is smart enough to let her subject tell his story in his own words.

And yes, that flies in the face of the way that several of Venditti's fellow documentarians — Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock come to mind — often work. At least a few insert themselves into the story and deliberately direct interviews to certain conclusions.

Not Venditti. Not here at least. Her more honest, direct approach leads to some revealing, unforced moments in the film.

Of course, not all of these are essential or interesting. But it's refreshing to see this from a genre that sometimes strains its supposed "nonfiction" description.

As the title suggests, this particular film's focus is on Billy, a 15-year-old Maine high school student who's a bit of a social misfit.

His mother, Penny Baker, admits that Billy has had some behavioral problems in the past. But he's found ways of dealing with his anger, mostly through musical activities, video games and karate.

Still, his social life and emotional growth is stunted. Which is why Penny gets worried when her son becomes obsessed with Heather, a sight-impaired 16-year-old working at a local diner.

The scenes in which Billy awkwardly attempts to romance Heather — he's overly chatty — are a little uncomfortable at times. They are sweet and genuine, as well.

And Billy may come off as an odd duck, but he's not mean or too peculiar. Actually, he's pretty likable, which is why you'll probably find yourself rooting for him to get the girl and to be happy for a change.

"Billy the Kid" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for scattered profanity (most of it pretty mild), a couple of suggestive references and song lyrics, slurs based on sexual preference, brief drug references, video game violence and discussion of adult themes (spousal abuse). Running time: 85 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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