Film Reviews

"Bully" a Wrenching Portrayal of a Problem Long Brushed Off as an Inevitable Part of Childhood

Bully is something of an outlier among awareness docs: It has a clear and calm approach to storytelling and some interest in the quality of its handheld images. Weaving together five far-flung year-in-the-life accounts, Bully affectingly lays out its worst-case scenarios. Subjects include a middle schooler from Sioux City, Iowa, who's harassed mercilessly on the school bus every morning (his tormentors are not camera-shy); a gay high schooler belittled at her Oklahoma school, including by her teachers, to the point that the family mulls moving; a Mississippi teen who has been incarcerated since pulling a gun on the classmates who taunted her; and the families of two children who, fed up by the abuse of their peers, resorted to suicide. The focus here is squarely on what happens in and around the schools, with indifferent administrators coming in for particular criticism. The film suggests that the problem, long brushed off as an inevitable part of childhood, should be approached more head-on. Bully arrives in theaters on a wave of free publicity after its distributor, the Weinstein Co., tried to fight its R rating; an unsuccessful PG-13-supportive online petition followed. If the film is a bit vague on the call to action, it's also all but impossible to argue against as these wrenching case studies wrap up.

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Benjamin Mercer