Jennifer Venditti is a casting director who found herself in Maine, looking for some interesting teenagers for Carter Smith's short film Bugcrush. While scoping out a local high school, she spoke with a group of bullies who told her about a boy they had harassed. Intrigued, she asked who, and they pointed to Billy. Venditti sat down to speak with him, and the moment he spoke, she realized what a special person was sitting across from her. She followed him through his life for a week, gaining a slew of footage that chronicles the angst of a stellar 15-year-old -- footage asking to be molded into a film that became Billy the Kid.
Of course, making a documentary about a 15-year-old boy raises questions about whether Billy is exposed or exploited. Recording adolescence means grabbing all of those awkward and gut-wrenching moments and molding them into a cinematic whole. Superficially, you could question this film for showing all of Billy's highs and lows -- both his happiness and his vulnerability. However, to do so is to miss what Venditti was trying to achieve, and what I believe she succeeded in doing. The film challenges our assumptions and tendency to stereotype while reminding us of just how great it is to be different. Billy has his struggles and his strangeness, but he's also got a large heart and genuine vision that should be celebrated instead of questioned. Watching this documentary is an exercise in restraint -- the restraint not to write down everything that Billy says. His words, a mixture of his thoughts and the media he immerses himself in, are beyond what any of today's most skilled comedians could muster. Just when you think something couldn't be more pure gold, he surprises you with another line. During one scene, the camera records Billy playing a shoot-em-up video game, holding the gun so close to the screen that you can't help but smile. You think that it's a simple scene, but then Billy's words reveal the truth below the surface: "I don't hurt the women. I think it is a sin to hurt the women -- real or fake." The statement is both youthfully naïve and wisely sincere.
These feelings are surely based in his family's struggles. Both Billy and his mother, Penny, talk openly to the camera about her struggles with his abusive, biological father. When Billy expresses his desire to impress his stepfather, who is never seen onscreen, his desperation for male guidance is palpable. However, at the same time, his mother is doing one hell of a job at providing him with guidance and companionship. They have a strong and communicative relationship that covers everything from famous artists to family issues, even while comfortably housed in a "Trucker" tee or sweatpants.
However, the highlight of the relationships explored in the film is Billy's first love interest, a shy and smiling young girl named Heather. Her little brothers inform Billy that she is often teased for her continually racing eyes. This affliction means nothing to the 15-year-old, and it definitely makes you rethink the last time you questioned someone's worth due to minor physical differences. Unfortunately for the burgeoning couple, Billy's at the height of excitement and adolescent lust, so he's not too keen on the art of patience. As he zooms forward, full speed ahead, you can't help but groan and cringe. You root for him; you shake your head when you know he will do the wrong thing; and you understand why.
Venditti's vérité shots let the story do the talking, and capture all those fleeting moments that could be missed in a blink, like the way Billy's eyes dance around Heather, desperate to think of something to say. The shots are unobtrusive and inviting, which undoubtedly helps to fuel the rollercoaster of Billy's emotions. He is, by no means, a perfect individual, but that's what makes him perfect. He's real. He feels upset and angry just as much as he feels loving and protective. Billy reminds us that there are many grains of sand that go into the bottle of life. Just as many types of people should be celebrated for what they can offer, no small bit should be taken as the answer for a larger whole.