[Review] – Bully

23 Apr

Title: Bully
Year: 2012
Director: Lee Hirsch
Writers: Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen
Starring: Alex Kirby, Ja’Meya Jackson, Kelby Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense thematic material, disturbing content, and some strong language – all involving kids
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metacritic: 74

You’ve no doubt heard a thing or two about all the controversy surrounding Lee Hirsch‘s powerful new documentary, Bully. There was a whole thing going on about the R rating the MPAA stupidly decided to stamp this one with, which of course prevents this one from being seen by teenagers and shown at high schools around the country, and thus limiting its effect tremendously by keeping it from those who would benefit the most from seeing it. That’s since been settled and a PG-13 version of the film is now out, and I don’t know what the difference is between this one and the R-rated version, but I doubt much of its impact was lessened; Bully is still a really powerful piece of filmmaking that delivers a hard-hitting message to an audience that definitely needs it.

What Bully does so well is that it takes a more personal style. It feels really passionate about its subject an has a very direct approach at telling its story, which will make you connect with the people on-screen and thus make this a truly effective documentary. You get the sense that this documentary will actually do some good in the world we live in today in which bullying is such a serious issue, one that affects pretty much everyone in one way or another, and that Lee Hirsch himself was a victim of as a kid, which prompted him to make this film, and probably is the reason why this one feels so personal in how it’s made.

We are all, after all, part of this problem. Victim, perpetrator or a simple bystander doing nothing to stop it, we are all part of this whole phenomenon that’s just super tough to watch see how it happens. Tough not because of how and why this happens, not even because of what the aftermath of bullying can be like, though those are tough things and this film has its fair share of examples about them; but toughest, I think, because of how nonchalant we can be regarding bullying, how we can all just let it happen and not really do much about it, disregard it as part of growing up, say it’s just “kids being kids”, when in reality it’s so much more, and we know it.

I think that’s what Bully does best, it calls us on our bullshit, it makes us realize, the hard way, that we’re being just as stupid as the bullies because of how easy we shrug it off. Mr. Hirsch and his team have captured a number of moments that will really get to you as they tell the story of a number of kids in Georgia, Mississippi and Oklahoma, a number of moments where you’ll want to get into the screen and just yell “enough!” at the kid doing the bullying. But you obviously can’t, you have to sit there and see what’s happened to these kids, a couple of whom have committed suicide, and you have to get mad, get mad at the bullies, but mostly get mad at the teachers who don’t do a thing about it, maybe because they don’t know about it or because they don’t want to know about it. It’s infuriating, and that’s good, that means this film is working.

As good as Bully is though, and it really is quite good, and as powerful as I think it’s message can be and as much as I would like kids of all ages to watch it, there’s just something keeping me from labeling it as truly great. I mean, even though we get to hear quite a lot about the victims, and we sympathize with them, I think there’s a disconnect as far as how much you can connect to them for some reason. I mean, don’t get me wrong, these stories are deeply felt and immensely relatable, but I thought there was still a way to distance yourself from it all.

It presents bullying as a problem that seemingly has no solution and it gives us these kids who we’ll definitely feel for, but by not really giving us an insight into the minds and lives of the perpetrators I think it takes away form the effect it could have. It’s easy to say “I’m not one of them” when you just hear about the bullies from these kids who’ve gone through hell at their hands, but it might be harder to say so, or at least it would encourage a more insightful thought process, if we actually saw and heard these kids, and maybe try to understand why they’re exacting such acts of anger and violence.

Still, I loved this film. I think it will have a truly good effect on the people that watch it, even though I have my reservations and do believe that impact could have been even bigger. But it’s a film that acknowledges a problem, even if it doesn’t really offer a solution to it, but it’s a call to arms, it tells us to stop being so indifferent about it and instead do something. And as that Bully is a true success, it reminds us of an epidemic that’s all too easy to ignore, one that has effects that aren’t necessarily easy to pinpoint straight away, but ones that are there and are deeply hurtful for those experience. It tries to give a voice to the silent, and it tries to get us involved in breaking that silence.

Grade: B+

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One Response to “[Review] – Bully”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies April 23, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Apparently the only cuts that were made were trimming out three f-words from the six in the original cut. I’d really like to see this soon.

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