Jennifer Venditti’s nonfiction feature Billy the Kid presents itself as a loose, raw, caught-on-the-fly portrait of an average high school misfit in small-town Maine. From the moment that 15-year-old Billy Price comes on camera, though, we’re cued to see him not just as a person but as a symptom, a walking paragon of generational yada yada. Droopy and pale, with dancing dark eyes and a bit of peach fuzz on his upper lip, Billy comes off as sweetly unguarded — his talk is a monologue of confession, whether he’s babbling about girls or guitars — but he’s a ”weirdo” at school, quietly sneered at by the rigid, jockish cliques. (The other kids are about as introspective as tree stumps.) At one point, we hear about how he checked out books on serial killers, and we’re supposed to wonder if Billy, with his sad-puppy affect, his vaguely troubled narcissistic daze, could ever be the kind of kid who mutates, behind his bedroom door, into a school shooter.
Actually, one needn’t worry, because what truly defines Billy is that he’s a folksy exhibitionist who is shrewd enough to treat this documentary as his own reality show. Billy the Kid, a movie that’s as interesting as it is dewy-eyed, may be the rare snapshot of an adolescent ”outcast” who is really the guy made for fame, with a built-in radar for how to present himself in front of the camera. When Billy stakes out a dim, sweet girl who works at a diner and asks her to be his girlfriend, is he acting a role or following his heart? For Billy, they appear to be close to the same thing. Perhaps that makes him a generational symbol after all. B