The documentary starts with David Young. He explains how bullies drove their high school age son, Tyler, to suicide. From there, writer/director Lee Hirschs film follows other kids experiencing a similar fate.
Some die. Some dont. All suffer.
Much of the focus of the film is Alex, a sweet-natured teen whos mentally a little slower than his classmates. A docile disposition and odd looks make Alex a fertile ground for violence.
Hes bullied on the bus; choked, hit and stabbed. Finally, Hirsch and his crew share the bus video with school administrators and the boys parents.
The assistant principal of the school and the parents meet. As the woman attempts to mollify Alexs parents and explain there is no problem, I yelled at the screen.
A couple of times. And loudly.
Shes ridden the bus, too, she says. The kids were all angels. No, duh! Youre the vice-principal of the school. The kids know who you are. And the parents? They just sit there. Mom cries. Dad is silent. Theyre not happy with the womans answer but leave with very little protest.
I yelled at them, too. Maybe more loudly.
Bully is difficult to watch. Its hard to focus on poor Alex as he takes a pounding and then see the inept response by his parents and those in authority. In one confrontation, the boy tells his mother that those are his friends and if he doesnt let them wail away on him, hell have no friends. She hears this and sits silent.
I yelled then, too.
Even tougher is watching the devastated mother of an 11-year old that killed himself. She will tear your heart out. The boys father notes theyre nobodies. If the child of someone rich and important killed themselves because of bullying, he says reaction by the media and society would be swift.
He might be right. But whatever outcry comes from it, once it is no longer a hot headline, the fire fades and you have a dead child, a devastated family and then nothing.
Bully is an important movie. Everyone should see it. As important as it is, and as powerful as its story, Bully has flaws. Too many to go unmentioned.
Bully dances all around the problem but fails to explore why. Bullies arent interviewed. Experts in the psychology of bullying are left out. Potential causes of what looks like an increase in bullying are ignored.
Unmentioned is the ever-growing violence featured in video games, movies and television shows, and then there’s a society that embraces and seemingly idolizes bad behavior. Missed is the anonymity of the internet and how it is used for mocking and attack. There are single-parent families where kids are barely supervised or completely ignored. The film does note that some parents simply ignore what their children do. What Bully doesnt do is run with it.
Most disturbing is how such behaviors seem to have no serious consequences for those perpetrating violence on their otherwise helpless classmates. No consequences. No accountability. No answers. No suggestions. Nothing.
Adult after adult in the film appear as helpless and clueless about what to do about children bullying other children. That is as chilling as the bullying. And it, too, is not addressed.
Bully left me wanting more. Hirschs film by its very nature demands more complete answers.
This is not to say that there are no answers. A town hall meeting in the middle of the film and work featured near the movie’s end by the parents of victims are positive. They are organizing. Spreading the word. Reaching out to students that care, to educators and parents.
This is a good thing.
Also noteworthy is how the Motion Picture Association of America argued about the movies rating. To get it to a PG-13 so kids can see it with their parents or other adults, key scenes had to be altered and modified. That removed a lot of the power from the message.
Language was an issue. Does the MPAA believe school kids seeing this movie have never heard the language used by the children abusing other children? Thats ridiculous. Does the MPAA believe its too violent for their precious little eyes? Children in todays schools are well aware of that violence. They see it daily on TV and on video games, and more importantly, they see it in their schools and with their friends.
Sanitizing this film is a travesty. Maybe the producers will leave their original cut intact when they release the DVD. And ultimately, this is how most people will end up experiencing this movie.
Until then we have this version. Take your kids. Educators, go see this. Bully deserves to be seen. It must be seen.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It is playing at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.