Friday, April 13, 2012
Movie review: Bully
A film that's extremely powerful, but also extremely depressing.
The social issue documentary can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, any film that brings to light an injustice in the world, no matter what it is, is worth seeing. But there are also some issues that seem so big, so far-reaching, so ingrained in a particular culture, that even focusing an entire movie on the subject can seem like spitting in the wind.
Bully is one of those films. That’s not to say that director Lee Hirsch’s film isn’t powerful and effective. It’s just that it’s so relentlessly depressing that it’s difficult to see any way around the problem at hand. Hirsch highlights three kids with varying degrees of intensity. Featured most is 12-year-old Alex, a boy nicknamed “Fish Face” by fellow students due to his prominent lips. Alex is so socially awkward that it appears he’s come to accept his being bullied, which includes name calling, punching, and stabbing with pencils, as a form of friendship.
16-year-old Kelby lives in the small Oklahoma town of Tuttle, a town so insular and conservative that students AND teachers essentially ran her out of school when she came out as a lesbian. 14-year-old Ja’Maya is serving time in a juvenile correction facility after she brought a gun on a bus to confront her own bullies. A fourth kid, Tyler, makes appearances only in pictures and home movies, as he, according to his family, killed himself after relentless bullying. Hirsch follows them as they attempt to get their school district to provide better protection for the bullied.
Even more than the individual stories, the saddest and most frustrating things about Bully are both the lack of resources available to those who are bullied and the sometimes devil-may-care attitudes of those in a position to stop the abuse. The assistant principal at Alex’s school is shown on multiple occasions to be hopelessly clueless and naïve, even going so far as to suggest that Alex’s bullies are actually “good kids.” Other school officials pointedly brush away incidents as just “boys being boys” or other ineffective platitudes.
While it’s not necessarily the job of Bully to present a solution to the bullying problem, the lack of practical solutions is glaring. All of the principal people in the film are shown participating in anti-bullying rallies, but those feel like meetings that are preaching to the choir. Those doing the bullying, and the parents/guardians who condone and/or ignore their children’s actions, are the ones who need to be reached the most. It makes you wonder if Hirsch even attempted to chronicle the life of a bully, as difficult as that would be to imagine.
Bully will leave you angry, outraged, and wishing more could be done. It is fantastic news that the MPAA came to its senses and rated the film PG-13, albeit without a few superfluous F-words. But unfortunately, the film may just be a small blip in a practice that has been going on for generations, and could likely continue for many more years.
For showtimes for Bully, click here.