by Del Harvey
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Documentary filmmaker Chris Deleo’s latest film deals with loss, loneliness, and feelings of abandonment. Billy’s Girls is about two women left behind when 46-year old magician Billy Naughton died of a heart attack in 2003. He left behind a devoted wife, Cathi, and a daughter who worshipped him, Kimmie. Each has their own problems, as Chris shows us through the course of his latest film.
But it is Kimmie who suffers the most and, in turn, causes everyone around her to suffer. Kimmie was a daddy’s girl and followed to footsteps of Billy as magician and, unfortunately, it is her mother, Cathi, whom she takes her frustration and anger out on, rather than examining her feelings and coming to terms with them.
Cathi suffers from a number of ailments, as proven by her multiple pill boxes, each resembling a small plastic fishing tackle. The woman seems to wake up and go to sleep in constant pain, but somehow manages to maintain an even keel around the ever-selfish Kimmie, even when her own daughter is drunk and throwing dirty comments at her. Director and family share a rare trust that most documentary filmmakers only dream of. And, when you listen to Chris’ comments behind the camera, you hear his sincerity and caring for the family. And, while the situations and relationships may shock some viewers, the result is well worth any difficulty earned while witnessing such a raw event. Worst of all is Kimmie’s aforementioned super-negative attitude which temporary roommate Shannon and, “the other daughter,” Meghan bear. Chris seems perfectly aware of this, but somehow never attempts to moralize or trivialize their situations. And when things turn very deep and dark in the last half hour of the movie, the whole thing comes as a shock.
Whereas Chris’ earlier work, Why Neal, had a message of self-realization and acceptance, Billy’s Girls is the flipside of the coin, revealing how painful the loss of a loved one can be, and how devastated some family can become without that special person’s guidance. But to bring such a difficult, painful experience to the screen is no easy task, and Chris manages to do so with style and composure. Not for everyone, Billy’s Girls is a true documentary, that rare form of media which dares take a closer look at the harshness life sometimes has to offer, and does so with dignity and poise.
Del Harvey is a film critic and screenwriter in Chicago.
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