Billy Boy (2018)

Sometimes, you watch a movie and you wonder how it got X or Y actor to star in it. The production feels so far beneath them, and even if they’re not a big name, it still feels weird. Billy Boy stars Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist, who during its production were married but have since divorced. Sure, they’re not massive names, but they’ve been on some big TV shows and a couple of well-received movies. So, what’s the deal? It turns out that Jenner wrote and co-produced the film, financed it through Kickstarter (thanks for that, Glee fans), and convinced his then-wife to star with him. Mystery solved! We can all go home now!

Oh, right. The movie. Yeah, I opened with that little tidbit of information because it’s far more interesting than Billy Boy itself. The film stars Jenner as Billy and Benoist as Jennifer. He’s a troubled “youth” (they all look 25-30) who is into doing crimes with his delinquent friends, assaulting his teacher, and yelling at people. She’s a troubled “youth” who helps look after her foster siblings. They’re opposites, but somehow they’re a couple anyway. She wants him to stop doing bad things, he kinda maybe sort of wants to stop but also not really.

That’s pretty much all the important, non-spoiler plot stuff. It’s a typical “guy wants to get out of the life but can’t,” except that it’s never clear he really wants to get out at all in this case. Violent things happen that would severely emotionally impact most people but in Billy Boy only serve to make people mad for a scene or two; after that, they’re pretty chill about it. And the biggest, most shocking thing in the film gets no response from anyone in the movie, since it happens right at the end, for little reason but shock value, and we never get to see its aftermath.

Part of the reason it fails to emotionally resonate with both us and its characters is the decision to tell its story in a non-linear fashion—to the point that there are some transitions where it’s just rewound footage with narration over the actions playing in reverse. The non-linear editing comes across as style over substance—an attempt to inject something of worth into the bog-standard narrative, but only halts its momentum and makes an audience even less engaged.

Its one potential saving grace comes from the acting. Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist are both good actors who are compelling enough to make most of their scenes watchable. The supporting cast is not as strong. They’re not helped by their over-the-top characters and direction given by Bradley Buecker, but it’s amateur-grade acting from most if them. If the cast was universally strong, the final product might be worth checking out.

Billy Boy is a dime-a-dozen movie with two good actors who would have been better served doing other projects, except that they had a personal investment in the film. It tells a basic story without much of any emotional weight, one that’s been chopped into non-linear segments in hopes of dazzling the viewer with its editing style. That only harms its narrative momentum. Its lead actors are good, the supporting cast is not, but the characters are all way too thin for this sort of thing to work anyway.

Conclusion: Billy Boy offers nothing to stand out from the crowd.

Recommendation: Unless you’re a big Blake Jenner or Melissa Benoist fan, Billy Boy doesn’t have much reason for you to watch it.

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