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The Independent Critic

FEATURING
Alex, Kelby, Ja'Meya, Kelby and Ty
CONCEIVED AND DIRECTED BY
Lee Hirsch
WRITTEN BY
Cynthia Lowen
MPAA RATING
NR
RUNNING TIME
99 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
The Weinstein Company
DVD EXTRAS
  • Special Version of Bully Edited for a Younger Audience
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Bully Project at Work
  • Alex After Bully
  • Alex's Character Sketch
  • Alex Raps
  • Kelby's Original Sketch
  • Meryl Streep on Bullying
  • Communities in Motion
  • Sioux City After Bully
  • Good Morning America
  • Kevin Jennings, An Advocate's Perspective
  • Bully, The Book -
 "Bully" Review 
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There are good films. There are films that make a difference. Occasionally, there are good films that make a difference in the world.

Bully, a recent recipient of the Truly Moving Picture Award, is such a film.

If Bully doesn't make you angry, then you're not paying attention. If Bully doesn't want to make you reach out and hold your kid tightly, then you're not paying attention. Bully is the kind of film that some will accuse of exploiting the very subject of which it speaks - they are wrong.

Bully isn't a flawless film, but it is an incredibly well done film on an incredibly difficult subject on which to make a documentary feature. Directed by Lee Hirsch, Bully starts on the first day of a school year and ends on the the school year's last day. In between, we become intimately woven into the lives of a small group of people impacted by bullying.

Long seen as simply a case of kids "just being kids," this moving and insightful documentary challenges that theory just as society is starting to come to realization that, perhaps, bullying is actually a rather horrifying social issue. Bully is so effective in communicating its message that I'd almost say that anyone who has experienced bullying and/or simply the awkwardness of living life as a "different" child or youth shouldn't see the film alone.

I found myself reflecting upon many things while watching Bully, ranging from my own experiences as a disabled child being integrated into the public school system to, strangely enough, that uncomfortable feeling I got in the pit of my stomach way back when I watched Revenge of the Nerds for the first time and realized that in many ways that quirky comedy was actually about the devastating truth of bullying.

Hirsch focuses Bully on five specific families, but the film really encompasses a much broader picture of bullying and an emerging movement hoping to bring light to the issue and to do something about it. The stories brought disturbing to life here are universally disturbing, as they should be;

Alex is a 14-year-old from Sioux City, Iowa who experiences daily humiliation and assault. Despite the intensity of his daily experiences, he can't bring himself to tell his parents and, on a certain level, he's learned to identify this behavior as representative of friendship. Almost equally as disturbing is the pathetic response of the school's administrators as Alex's bullying comes to light.

Ja'Meya is a 14-year-old Mississippi girl who has cracked under the pressure of repeated bullying and pulled out a gun on a loaded school bus. Her actions resulted in the filing of 45 felony counts, a fact which is almost tauntingly presented by a local sheriff with a not so stunning lack of insight into the cycle of abuse.

Tyler from Georgia and Ty from Oklahoma are two teens whose suicides are given much attention during the course of the film, with both suicides largely triggered by years of harassment and abuse.

Kelby, a high school athlete from Oklahoma, comes out as a lesbian and experiences a wealth of harassment and abuse from neighbors, students and her teachers.

Some will fault Bully for its largely non-analytical approach to the subject of bullying and, as well, the lack of attention that Hirsch actually gives to the bullies themselves. Yet, it's fairly apparent to anyone who's paying attention that Hirsch is more concerned with painting an authentic portrait of the impact of bullying on the psyche' of our children, our families, our schools and our communities than he is at necessarily trying to explain it away. It's not that he doesn't care about the root causes, but it really feels like the purpose of Bully is to humanize the issue and to make it personal for all who see the film.

Mission accomplished.

Hirsch does an extraordinary job of painting a vivid portrait of a culture of bullying that often lies within the fabric of our academic institutions, a fact that will undoubtedly be denied by school administrators and teachers while students will be sitting there watching the screen going "Yep. Been there and experienced that."

The culture of bullying and ignorance was even evident in the MPAA's absolutely unfathomable and ridiculous decision to brand Bully, a film that teenagers should absolutely see, with the limiting R-rating due to a few instances of the "F" word.

In case you don't know it's "Fuck."

The Weinstein Company, to their credit, fought the rating but ultimately lost and decided to release the film unrated. While adults may find themselves squirming a bit in the film, it almost goes without saying that nothing in this film will prove shocking to most teenagers attending school today.

Bully is open in limited nationwide release throughout the country, including opening in three Indianapolis theaters this weekend. While it's not always an easy film to watch, it's absolutely a vital and important film for all of us to watch and for parents to attend with their teenaged children. If you've done your job as a parent, you and your teenager will leave the theater determined to make a difference or having a really honest conversation.


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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