Billy the Kid

dir. Jennifer Venditti

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Billy the Kid is a documentary about 15-year-old Billy Price, an adorable, hollow-chested eccentric who rules the downtown strip of a small town in Maine. If the camera is to be believed, he's cheerily tolerated by his mainstream peers at school, and he easily befriends the twerps who ride their bikes in circles in front of the local diner. It's only when he tries to date the twerps' older sister that his program of systematic chivalry falters and his basic weirdness carries the day.

Billy's behavioral oddities are apparent from the beginning. He launches into an introductory discourse that's as precocious as it is out of touch: "I have a big interest in girls, but I'm not a jerk about it. I despise drugs; I hate terrorism; I'm not a very big fan of politics. I don't hate it. It's just something I don't want to get mixed up in." Weirder still for a teenager (even a New England teenager), Billy recites a Robert Frost poem from memory and then applies its lessons to his life. He's almost compulsively forthcoming about his personal struggles, which involve his biological father's drug abuse—but at least his mom is stalwart. She fields strange, overly literal questions like "Do teenagers always bite off the heads of their elders?" without blinking.

Billy was diagnosed with Asperger's after the film wrapped, and if you know anything about the autism spectrum, this will not come as a surprise. So were the filmmakers somehow exploiting Billy by not acknowledging they had a real disorder on their hands? I think not. This documentary is a totally refreshing look at a person dealing with autism. Unlike Autism: The Musical or Temple Grandin's memoirs, you see the kid first, and the autism second. Billy the Kid is about liking KISS and kittens, about the role of poetry and professional wrestling in contemporary life, about not being able to get even the thing you thought you were settling for. It's heartbreaking. ANNIE WAGNER

The Bucket List

dir. Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner's latest film stars Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as grumpy old dying men. The former is billionaire Edward Cole; the latter is trivia-nut mechanic Carter Chambers. Both men have been informed that their final days are upon them, and hoping to go out with a bang—or at least on a globe-trotting tour—they sit down in their shared hospital room and scribble out a list of things to do and see before they shuffle off. On the list are such experiences as "kiss the most beautiful woman in the world" and "go skydiving," but the underlying wish might as well be "win one last Oscar." To say both Nicholson and Freeman chew the scenery is an understatement; the effects work of them sitting atop the pyramids is so atrocious you can't help but wonder if Reiner was forced to go the digital route because his leading men had actually devoured the ancient wonders.

Despite such blatant statuette reaching, it would be a lie to claim The Bucket List isn't effective, especially during its predictably somber third act. Reiner's direction is for the most part clean and, in a real shocker, fairly restrained, and the interplay between the two leads often sparkles. And while you could easily find yourself distracted by the film's preposterousness, not to mention its whiff of misogyny, there's always Freeman's voiceover to soothe the fight right out of you. For its intended audience of geezers, The Bucket List will no doubt play as a proper tearjerker; as a showcase for careers nearing their end, it's harmless and agreeable. "Never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart," Nicholson advises at one point. If those words speak to you, make sure you're in line on opening day. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Honey and Clover

dir. Masahiro Takada

A friend of mine once announced that the world would be a better place if it was run by teenage Japanese girls. I don't know if I agree with that sentiment, but I do know that, in this hypothetical Harajukracy, every movie would be like Honey and Clover. Based on a popular art-students-in-love manga/anime, Honey and Clover is a live-action iteration that stays close to the source's cornball, soap-opera roots.

Ayumi (Megumi Seki), the most popular girl in school, loves the bespectacled, shaggy-haired nerd Mayama (Ryo Kase), but Mayama is busy stalking an older woman named Rika (Naomi Nishida)—he even keeps her discarded tins of lip gloss and other bits of garbage tacked to his walls in plastic bags. Meanwhile, Takemoto (Sho Sakurai), "the least arty student in our school," loves the eccentric and talented Hagumi (Yu Aoi), but he—choke!—can't work up the nerve to tell her.

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The students frolic at the beach and throw parties all around campus, making bad abstract paintings all the while. The soundtrack is full of cheesy expat American bands fighting through lyrics like, "Why is lonely in my life?/Does everyone feel lonely, too?" Along the way, our young artists learn lessons: "You should paint the pictures you like however you like, whether you win a prize or not." When their unrequited love remains unrequited, they mope at the same beach where they had previously frolicked: "Where had the sparkling sea gone?"

The most frustrating thing about Honey and Clover is that, after nearly two full hours of castrated flirting and characters getting tremendously sad just because it's the time in the movie for them to get tremendously sad, it doesn't really end: One character fights the urge to sell out his art to the establishment (represented here by two flaming gay gallery owners named Mario and Luigi) and everyone else is still mooning over their crushes. This is fine for manga, or a cartoon, but for a cutesy teen-romance movie, it's absolutely intolerable. I bet the teenage Japanese girls are clamoring for a sequel. PAUL CONSTANT

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