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Bully

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

By

Bully
The Weinstein Company
Watching Lee Hirsch’s documentary Bully is not easy. Overwhelmingly painful is more apt. And yet, I agree with what has become a common reaction to viewers of this film: Bully should be seen by every school kid (particularly grades 5-12), every parent, caretaker, and anyone employed in any capacity by a school. You can’t help but feel outraged. And that’s the film’s purpose.
Bully is a wake-up call; it's cinematic evidence and testimony for stronger bullying laws. Let's hope the outrage and doesn't die away. It's easy to fall into the old excuse (often repeated in Bully): Kids will be kids. And so it goes.

And so it is, that two of the bullying victims the movie focuses on are dead: 11 year old Ty shot himself. 17 year Tyler old hanged himself. For these two, enough was enough.

A third focal character -- Alex, 12-- may have had his life saved by the movie.

Bully follows five kids, ages 11 to 17-- from Oklahoma, Iowa, Mississippi, and Georgia-- over the course of a school year, documenting their attempts to start anew, make friends, and to try, once again, to 'fit in.' There are the forced handshakes with the bullies, the parents asking the kids how things are going; the kids being too ashamed to tell them. There are confessions; attempts to stand up and be heard.

Director Lee Hirsch’s camera follows the “bullied” through their schools and around their homes; going back and forth between having them speak directly to the camera, and then having the camera track them, like an unseen eye, as they move through the danger grounds.

There’s Kelby, a 16 year old Oklahoman who, after coming out as a lesbian, is made a pariah (along with her entire family) in her town-- even in her church. Alex, the 12 year old Iowa boy called “Fish Face” is relentlessly verbally tormented and physically brutalized, especially on the bus. Ja’Meya, a 14 year old girl in Mississippi, has finally had enough of the name calling and mocked as “stupid.” She brandishes her mother’s gun at her tormenters in an attempt to defend herself-- which lands her in juvenile detention on 45 counts of felony. For Ty and Tyler, the grieving parents recount the boys’ battles, and now their attempts to bring justice to a system that lacks courage and empathy.

As the five stories weave together, Hirsch’s camera follows the students-- particularly Alex-- into areas otherwise routine and mundane-- but booby trapped with spider webs: the cafeteria, the lockers, and the ubiquitous yellow school bus, where Bully culminates with Hirsch’s filming of the most brutal physical attack in Bully, on Alex. It’s within that attack that those “bad words” that the MPAA took issue with make their appearance.

Beyond the overall sense of horror one feels in watching the movie, Bully does provide many sociologically insights into bullying. You notice, over and again, that the head is the specific part of the body bullies focus on. They flick things on the victim’s head, slam it forward into lockers and seat, focusing on the forehead. Specific locations are returned to over and again, with chilling routine, particularly bus stops, cafeterias, gym locker rooms, playgrounds, stairwells. There’s an animalistic plan and strategy to it all: a studied attack, lure, and trap. Books are another focus: books knocked out of the target’s hands; backpacks ripped off. Lines you know they’ve heard from their parents are repeated when yelling out how to “do” the beating-- sometimes with an almost sexual nature to the words of brutality.

The male bully usually makes another male his “bitch.” The period of time before the victim takes his or her life is when they stop crying, stop fighting back or upset-- and just quietly accept it.

The visual world of Bully is a standard, typically wholesome one, turned sinister and infected: the clean, polished, hallways; the sunny popularity and student council contests; cheerleaders and football players. And then there are the hard-backed plastic seats of the bus; the segregated tables of the lunch room.

Interspersed with the school-yard scenes we get glimpses of the cluelessness festering amongst the adults: parents who can't come to grips with the reality of their children's situation, the painfully inept school administrators, pretend-it's-not-happening bus drivers, and law enforcement officials who deny the crisis or look the other way.

There are plenty of Hollywood movies where the geek/nerd/wimp is endearingly misunderstood and while targeted, by the end, they've won over their tormenters, find the love they deserve, become champions, or get the girl. This doesn't happen in Bully. If there's an uplifting note, it comes through the coda of the work being done by the grass-roots anti-bullying group formed by Ty's father, which visits schools around the country. Blue, black and white balloons are set free into the sky to honor the lives lost to bullying; students wear wrist bands that say "I Stand With the Silent."

Time will soon tell if the MPAA issue will do damage or not. While yes, they do have their rules to follow, it may be that the MPAA, in keeping strict to those rules, just like the administrators and law enforcers in Bully do-- is in the end, also looking the other way. Bully opens in the same weekend as testosterone-packed Wrath of the Titans and Julia Roberts' Mirror Mirror . Both have a PG rating. We'll find out on Sunday night where the kids were spending their money.

Hopefully, the celebrity endorsements behind Bully won't die down.

Enough is enough.

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