Billy The Kid

I caught some flack this summer when I was complaining about all the sequels and remakes in theaters. The folks that were most frustrated with me almost seemed to be asking, “Okay, fine, smarty pants. What would YOU rather see?”

One easy answer to that question would be Billy The Kid, Jennifer Vendetti’s superb new documentary, which opens for a limited engagement tomorrow at the IFC Center in New York (more theatrical screenings are soon to follow nationwide). Don’t miss this one. It’s easily one of my favorite films — fiction or non-fiction — of the year, and probably the best film about growing up that I’ve seen since Spellbound.

The film is a portrait of a Maine teenager, an awkward, troubled, and wise kid named Billy. What happens? Just life. Billy meets a girl. He deals with kids that don’t like him. His mother loves him and talks straight with him.

As far as plot is concerned, that’s “it.” But to explain the appeal of this movie, I would have to relay specific scenes from it. And the last thing I want to do is spoil the moments of discovery that Vendetti captures. All I can say is that the film does an uncommonly good job of capturing the raw awkwardness, pain, anger and tenderness of life at 15. The moments of Billy’s I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself reactions to first love, and his mother’s sensitivity to his plight, are especially priceless.

Since Billy’s thoughts and feelings are so close to the surface, throughout I kept fearing that Vendetti’s might teeter into the realm of exploitation. For me, it didn’t. Billy’s an outsider, and while there are undoubtedly some very funny moments in the film, whenever I was laughing at Billy it was because there was a shock of recollection of some similar moment (like his scene of electric guitar heroics) from my own childhood. And even in these moments, I was cheering for him, admiring his combination of guts and innocence.

Billy The Kid opens today at the IFC Center. Theatrical screenings in Chicago, Seattle, and elsewhere are upcoming. Check the Billy The Kid website for details. It’s worth seeking out.

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