Movie Review ~ Bully

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary on peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America.

Stars: Alex, Ja’Maya, Kelby

Director: Lee Hirsch

Rated: UR/PG-13

Running Length: 99 minutes

Random Crew Highlight: Special Thanks ~ Briston Baughan

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  How not to start out this review with the phrase “When I was a kid…”  Well…looka there…I just did.  Seriously though, when I was a kid I remember a time when bullying was a problem but not the gigantic social issue it has become.  As our world has grown and shifted into an age of instant connection and universal ideals the role of the bully now takes on many forms.  It’s not just the big mean kid that should know better.  Bullies are now found everywhere you look from judges on reality television to headstrong CEO’s.  As adults, we usually have the tools to deal with these bullies and move forward.  Still, what about the original bully…the bully you may see five days a week without fail.  How do you avoid a problem when it’s sitting right next to you?

That’s the question I think the new documentary Bully wants to ask but it already thinks it has the answer before asking the question.  While this is a movie that I feel should be seen by every teenager and their parents, Bully is not the mind-changing piece that I think it could have been.  With a little more smoothing of the edges and a slightly reigned in narrative we’d have a movie that could be used as a serious piece of wake-em-up filmmaking.

My main problem with the movie is that it’s overstuffed.  Two or three movies could have been made from the stories and people we meet but instead everything is shoved into a trim 95 minutes that goes by fast but leaves you wanting more.  Never really going in depth to look under the surface I felt slightly manipulated as a viewer…like the film wanted to point me in a certain direction and move on before I asked questions.

Now I’m not meaning to imply that I’m playing devil’s advocate and siding with the bully but at no point does the film look at the bully and see what has brought him/her to the place where they need to bring others down.  Does it make them feel good?  Were they bullied?  What do their parents think?  For all the on-screening bullying that’s caught I can’t help but wonder what kind of dialogue could have been captured when the parents of the bully were shown how their child treats others.

These major issues aside…there are more than a few memorable people/moments/statements made in Bully which alone makes it worth seeing.  The film highlights several victims of bullying (both alive and deceased) and, though sad, these carefully chosen teenagers are fascinating to watch. 

The poster boy of Bully so far has been Alex.  The awkward teen that is called Fish Face and bullied mercilessly on the bus could have (and probably should have) had a movie all to himself.  It’s clear that from his premature birth Alex has a bit of a developmental delay which has played a part in his gradual acceptance of the treatment he endures.  He seems to think any attention is good attention – you see him constantly putting himself in the line of fire just because he thinks the kids that strangle him and stab him with pencils are really just friends “messing around” with him.  It all leads up to two statements he makes that drive the whole message of the movie home.  I’m not going to divulge them here but they had a major impact on me and I think they will for you too.

Alex is but one of several subjects that are followed over the course of a school year.  The others, a teenage lesbian, a young girl so fed up with being bullied she brings a gun onto a school bus and suffers the consequences, and two boys that took their own lives are all powerful motivators for change and I hope their messages are heard above the din that this movie had brought up regarding its original R rating.  What exists in the theater now is a PG-13 movie with 3 F-bombs that are said and done before 15 minutes are up.  It’s not (in my opinion) offensive and parents that know their children should be able to talk to them about the language in a healthy way.

The best/worst subject in the entire film is a seriously clueless Associate Principal in Alex’s school.  Seemingly highlighted to represent all of the adults in the movie (maybe rightly so), her naïve and jaw-dropping interactions with bullied teens and parents alike are funny at first but ultimately very sad.  I can’t imagine she could watch this movie and not see how much her words and actions make her one of the worst bullies of them all.