I walked out of “Bully” with a heavy heart and a feeling of profound sadness. “Bully” doesn’t aim to be sensational. Nor does it aim to be an in-depth study of the bullying epidemic in America. There are no statistics or interviews from experts in the area; it’s just a simple documentary that follows five different families who have been affected by bullying. It opens with a little kid playing around in his backyard – moments later we find out that the little kid in the footage hung himself. His father, David Long, who is the subject of some of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments, tells us about his son, Tyler, and what drove him to do what he did. The look of utter pain in this man’s eyes is enough to create an ache in your chest. But this is only the beginning.
The main subject of the movie is a 12-year-old boy named Alex. He has trouble socializing and making friends. He considers it a good day when no one messes with him. In one scene, he’s talking to his mother about what the other kids, his friends, do to him at school. When his mom tells him that those kids aren’t his friends, he asks, “If you say that these people aren’t my friends, then what friends do I have?”
Other subjects of the film include Ja’meya, a 14-year-old girl who brought a gun on the school bus to scare off her tormentors, and 16-year-old Shelby, a lesbian living in the Bible Belt who became a social pariah the moment she came out.
One of the most frustrating segments of the documentary involves an incompetent assistant principle at Alex’s school. After his parents view a video of the kids on the bus calling him names, stabbing him with pencils, and choking him, they go to her to try and find a solution, one where the safety of their son will be ensured.
“I’ve ridden that bus,” says the woman. “Those kids are as good as gold.”
Cue to the moment that the entire theater collectively groaned and mocked her ignorance.
“Bully” only shows us the tip of the iceberg. With a problem as widespread as bullying, this could have been an opportunity to dig deeper into the problem, maybe get the other side’s perspective. Why do the bullies torture these kids the way they do? What is the best way to deal with the situation? Can we ever hope for change? Director Lee Hirsch opts for a hopeful ending, showing one of many “Stand For The Silent” anti-bullying rallies going on – and one can only hope that kids, parents, and school officials seeing this important film will be the catalyst for change we so desperately need.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars