Review: Bully


Bullying is a very real threat facing kids today. Heck, we’ve all been there. And if you say you haven’t been bullied, then you’re either a liar, were home schooled, or a used car salesman. But now, it seems that kids are even more vile and cruel to each other. No longer is it just petty name calling based on preconceived notions and appearances.; it’s an incredibly serious situation, but the worst part is that coming up with a solution is the hardest part.

Bully is perhaps the best piece of anti-bullying media ever made. It’s just a shame hardly anyone will see it.

Director: Lee Hirsch
Rating: Unrated
Release Date: March 30, 2012

Bully follows the lives of three kids: Alex, Kelby, and Ja’Meya. All three of them grow up around various Southern and Midwestern states. The main focus is on 12 year old Alex. He’s been bullied and picked on for most of his lifewhen all he wants to do is just fit in. While he’s a great kid, and very sweet-natured, his bullies refuse to see that side of him. As he starts his seventh grade year, Alex’s bullies grow ever more relentless. Alex’ story is the most developed, and for me the most personal. As a victim of bullying myself, I resonated instantly with him, having been bullied on the bus just like he was. However, I don’t think my bullies were as cruel as his were. The shocking thing about Bully is the amount of harassment that’s captured on camera. These kids have no regard for decency or for who’s watching them, instead choosing to belittle and attack those who are different. 

The rest of the stories are just as powerful and moving as you’d expect. Ja’Meya’s problem with bullying got to a point where she brought her mother’s handgun onto the school bus to ward off her tormentors. Kelby, a recently out lesbian, deals with the harshness of classmates and, horrifyingly enough, her teachers who led to her dropping out of sports. While her parents are supportive and are willing to move, Kelby won’t have any of it, trying to change the minds of folks around her town. Really, every story presented in Bully could work as its own movie. Together though, you’re presented with one of the strongest narratives I’ve ever seen in a documentary.

Then you get to the parents. David and Tina Long’s son Tyler hung himself due to constant bullying. Through the film, David and Tina constantly fight the school and demand accountability for what happened to Tyler, as their small community deals with their large issue of bullying in schools. But they aren’t alone. 11 year old Ty committed suicide under similar circumstances. His parents, Kirk and Laura Smalley stop at nothing to ensure that other kids in Ty’s situation don’t suffer the same fate. Together, they start Stand for the Silent, a nationwide anti-bullying organization who coordinate vigils and educate folks on the issue at large. One particular vigil held at the end of the film makes for one of the most beautiful endings I’ll see all year.

Really, the only issue I had with the movie was the sloppy and jarring camerawork at times. Usually, I can forgive handheld camera shots, but nearly an entire movie without a tripod and sloppy focus work makes my eyes hurt. All of that is for moot when the story presented to you is so emotionally charged and affecting. Really, the bigger issue is the MPAA rating. Releasing this movie unrated only ensures that its target audience won’t be able to see it. I fully support the Weinstein’s decision to try and repeal this ruling, but it turns out that old white men and women get to decide what’s best for our kids apparently. Thankfully though, AMC is willing to show the movie to children. So thank god for small miracles.

Parents, take your children to see Bully. It’s perhaps the most important movie you could experience with them. Talk to them about this issue. And if your child is being bullied, demand something be done about it at their school. For those of us that aren’t in school, or don’t have children, you can attend vigils, spread education, donate to Stand for the Silent. There’s no reason that we can’t stamp out bullying and intolerance for good. Let’s start something good here.