Bully Review
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Harvey Weinstein is what you might call a “shrewd businessman.” He knows a great marketing opportunity when he sees one. He clearly knew that, for Lee Hirsch’s Bully, he could get all kinds of publicity by taking on the MPAA over a few too many f-bombs. And, in the process, he could get people to rally around a film that they’d never actually seen. Some might call him a genius. Some might even call him a bully. But, whatever the case, his latest antics have definitely bought plenty of attention for a film that isn’t really what it’s promised to be.

According to the press releases, Bully is an important documentary that should be required viewing for kids everywhere (with or without those f-bombs). But that’s not necessarily the case.

The film is a devastating look at the effects that some kids suffer from bullying. We meet Alex, an awkward 12-year-old who’s pushed around and teased and threatened on his daily bus ride to school. We meet Kelby, a gay teen who’s trying to make a difference in her small town. We meet Ja’Maya, a former honors student who’s serving time in a juvenile institution for standing up to her bullies. And we also meet the parents of Tyler and Ty, two kids who suffered so deeply from bullying that they chose to take their own lives.

The stories that these kids—and these parents—have to tell are absolutely heartbreaking. As an expectant mother, I sometimes found myself with tears in my eyes, knowing that my own daughter will someday have to deal with some level of bullying—because, really, who of us hasn’t? The things that the kids in the film will do and say to a neighbor or a classmate or a kid on the bus—even when there’s a camera rolling—are often shocking and appalling. It’s disheartening to see how ineffective most of the adults—the parents, the teachers, the bus drivers, the school administrators—are when it comes to handling the situation. And it’s sad to see the measures that some kids take as a result of bullying.

The question, however, is who, exactly, will see this movie—and who will benefit from watching it. Some may say that it will build awareness—and that could very well be the case. Still, especially when you consider the amount of publicity that the topic of bullying has gotten in recent years, it’s pretty safe to say that we all know that the problem exists—and that it’s a problem. Meanwhile, those who care will see the movie—and they’ll continue to care. Those who don’t care won’t bother watching—and, even if they do, they probably won’t be moved by stories about what they’ll see as kids who are weak, weird, or just plain different.

The greatest problem, though, is that, in the end, Bully provides a whole lot of tragic stories but no real resolution. There seems to be a rather nebulous message about awareness and speaking up for those who are being bullied—but there aren’t any concrete solutions to be found. And, without getting to the heart of the problem—and offering up some answers—it may be a moving and emotional documentary, but it’s about as effective as the assistant principal who believes that she’s bringing an end to the problems in her school by forcing bullies to shake hands with the kids they’re tormenting.

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