Posted at 11:07 PM on February 10, 2008
by Euan Kerr
I spent part of the weekend in the documentary company of "Billy the Kid" (currently showing at the Parkway in Minneapolis,) and Hal Hefner, the character at the center of Jeffrey Blitz's comedy "Rocket Science."
They are two very different portraits of young men in conflict with the world, and both worth watching.
Billy is a 15 year old boy with "issues" as he puts it, growing up in a small town in Maine. His extremely bright, but he has very few filters as he goes through life, meaning you are pretty much always aware of what is on his mind. He knows he has a violent temper, and he knows he wants to get on with life, but it's a challenge.
The film has been taking documentary prizes at festivals in the US and Europe. Director Jennifer Venditti, (who is introducing the film today and tomorrow at the Parkway,) lets us follow him through a few of his days. It's both heartrending and wonderful, depending on what's spinning out in front of him. It's a powerful documentary film which doesn't explain much about what is causing Billy to do what he does, but it's very recognizable on a human level, and allows an intimate experience of the frustrations of a troubled teen.
"Rocket Science" is another prize-winner, but this time a drama about a teenaged boy with a stutter, who falls under the spell of a powerful young woman who tells him she wants to mold him to become her partner for the New Jersey state high school debate championships. Writer/director Blitz (who directed that classic kid documentary "Spellbound")
has created a tale which dallies with the conventions of high school underdog films, but injects a sense of reality in the plot which makes the film very satisfying, and one which grows on you as time passes.