Bullying is bad.
Those are the three words that essentially sum up Lee Hirsch’s new documentary “Bully,” and no one can say those words don’t have impact.
Bullying has always been somewhat of a problem, in school settings simply because well, kids are mean. They’re immature or they’re having their own problems so they feel the need to take it out on another kid who’s weaker. Although with all the recent instances of kids (mainly teenagers) committing suicide because of it has caused bullying to become an even bigger problem than before, and also the fact that it’s being tolerated, not only by other students but also by teachers and school employees.
Hirsch’s documentary is calling attention to that fact and to do it he’s collected the perfect storm of extreme bullying cases. Hirsch doesn’t make one of those slick documentaries with fancy graphs, goofy visual aids and a plethora of different outside commentators like psychologists, college professors or authors. Instead he and his crew simply embed themselves into the home and town lives of each case, and tell it from the victim’s point of view, which is effective to a certain extent.
The movie focuses on five different kids and their families, two of them, Tyler Long of Chattsworth Georgia and Ty Smalley of Perkins, Oklahoma took their lives due to bullying, another is sixteen year old Kelby of Tuttle Oklahoma who found out she was gay and as a result she and her family were treated as lepers by the other members of the small town. Kelby had to stop playing softball and basketball due to verbal abuse from her teammates. Then there’s 14-year-old Ja’meya from Yahzoo County Mississippi who was so fed up with bullying that she took her mom’s gun and threatened a group of kids on her bus and as a result got put in a juvenile detention facility.
Meanwhile all the teachers and other school workers let it happen and in Kelby’s case participate in the bullying.
There’s no doubt that every single one of these stories is absolutely devastating and I can’t imagine anyone going to the movie not feeling touched but as I said before, all four of these stories are the most extreme cases, the far more fascinating story revolves around 12 year old Alex of Sioux City, Iowa. Alex isn’t a homosexual struggling in Bible belt Oklahoma, and he didn’t pull a gun on fellow students. No, he’s just an average kid who’s…different.
He’s a perfectly nice, bright young man but he’s not good at fitting into social situations or making friends, and sadly lets other kids beat up on him on the bus in the morning before school in an attempt to just be noticed. It doesn’t matter if you come from an area where bullying is common or an area where bullying isn’t common we all know someone like Alex. That’s where “Bully” deserves the most praise, for pointing out the average bullying victim.
Again, it’s very hard to not feel something, but at the same time the film is unbalanced. Hirsch makes sure we see plenty of Alex and Kelby and the rest of the victims go through pain and suffering as well as the parents (there are many crying scenes) but he doesn’t bother talking about the bullies and the only glimpses we get of the school district employees are all horrible. At the school that Alex goes to there’s one vice principal who we see multiple times that’s made out to be the antichrist.
Also, I don’t think it would have hurt if Hirsch had interviewed a few other people like child psychologists or professors just so we could get a neutral view on bullying and therein go much deeper into the topic itself. Instead of just getting the same depressing “bullying is bad” message for the duration of the film.
Look, there are obviously great intentions behind this movie. In terms of getting the word out about bullying “Bully” should exist and anyone who doesn’t think bullying is a problem should see this. But in terms of a piece of filmmaking, “Bully” could do much better in further exploring the overall subject of bullying, as opposed to just saying “bulling is bad” for 95 minutes. If Hirsch wanted to do that it would have been better to just make a thirty-minute film and release it virally, like the Kony 2012 video. More people would see it and it would be a much swifter and efficient call to action.