Review by Jude Felton
You could say that it goes without saying that bullying is a problem. However, therein lies part of the problem; it shouldn’t go without saying, as that is part of the very reason it exists. Too often it goes unspoken, swept aside so to speak, leaving the victims to suffer in silence. The documentary, Bully, tries to address this problem, and whilst it will succeed in bringing some of these issues to light, it falls far from being any sort of solution.
The documentary, from director Lee Hirsch, follows five kids, or their families, over the course of one school year. It is here that we get to see just how deep-rooted the problem of bullying really is. Although, with that in mind, the most powerful aspect of the film is not necessarily when the films follows the kids that are being bullied, even though that in itself is heartbreaking to see, it is the aftermath of the suicides of two children that could take no more. One can only imagine how the parents feel, or cope, with this happening.
Bully is an eye-opening affair, although I think that it is one that would have more of an effect on the children themselves. Mind you, I think a lot of parents could do to watch it as well, as observing the bullied is one thing, but it is the bullies themselves that need to be addressed, and the parents of kids that bully.
As a film Bully meanders through its story, telling us a tale that I think we all already know. Maybe not these individual stories, but many like them, and while it is a truly admirable attempt at bringing this problem to a greater awareness it still falls far short of actually doing anything about it. No solutions are offered up; it’s all very well covering a town hall meeting about bullying, where we get to hear about how wrong bullying is, but no real insight into the bullies themselves are offered up.
There is one child, who lost his friend to suicide, who does admit to once being a bully, although it comes across as a cursory side story rather than trying to get inside the psyche behind the need to victimize. Victims of bullying are often expected to suck it up, just watch how the principle of one school deals with an altercation, and suffer in silence, yet when they fight back they are held accountable. Why could this also not have been addressed? I’m sure many of you have seen the video of the kid knocking a bully out, only to have been disciplined himself. Why? Should the kids just accept it? Or fight back?
These are questions that in my opinion should have been addressed in Bully, yet aren’t. It is all very well pointing the finger, and telling us what the problem is, but we know about the problem. Instead, there should have been a harder stance taken on how to fix the problem instead of stern finger pointing.
With all that in mind, Bully is interesting viewing. I could have done without the score which only served to further pull at the heart strings, but this film will piss you off, it’ll make you angry and it will sadden you. It’s well made and there are a ton of extras included on this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack which are worth checking out.
The fact that the film was slightly edited in order to achieve a PG-13 rating at the Weinstein Company’s request only further highlights how this film doesn’t really achieve what it sets out to do. I would have been far happier to have seen the option to watch the uncut R rated movie. Bullying isn’t something that should be watered down for mass consumption; it’s the use of language just as much as the physical aspects of bullying that make it so destructive.
Overall Bully does work in some aspects, yet falls short in other areas. Worth watching for sure, just don’t go in expecting any real resolution to what is a very real problem.
Bully is released on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay on February 12th.