A Movie with a Message

Outside of possibly The Hunger Games, Bully is the most talked about movie of 2012 to date.  The debate is over the rating.  The MPAA suffered a backlash when it handed this documentary an R-rating as its supporters—and there are many—don’t want theater chains to be turning away the film’s intended audience (the rating has now been changed to PG-13).  That audience is school-age kids, whom the filmmakers hope will be able to take this film’s message to heart and make a stand against bullying, which this movie shows to have tragic consequences.

Bully follows the lives of a few students who are being bullied at school, for varying reasons. Alex is bullied because he’s a bit of a nerd, is poor at sports, and has difficulties making friends.  He is constantly abused on the bus, but refuses to talk to his parents about it, which only concerns them more.  When the filmmakers finally feel compelled to step in, his parents attempt to take action, but they are just dismissed by the school’s faculty because “these things will happen.”

There’s also Kelby, a young woman who was ostracized by the majority of her classmates when she decided to come out and tell everyone that she was gay.  In her case, the bullying was not only restricted to her at school, but her whole family was more or less shunned by the entire community.  Her father explains that he told her they could move to a place where Kelby will be more welcome, but Kelby wants to stick it out as she is hopeful that the community will eventually come around.

Alex, featured in BullyKelby admits to the filmmakers that she has tried to take her own life, but fortunately she has not succeeded and is now supported by a close-knit group of friends who accept her for who she is.  Others weren’t so fortunate, as the movie introduces us to a pair of parents whose children were bullied to a point that they felt they only had one way out.  This is the most emotional portion of Bully, as we watch these parents cope with the loss of their kids.  The hardest-hitting moment of the film, however, comes not with the parents, but the 11-year-old best friend of one of the kids who chose to end his own life.  Watching him as he takes us on a tour of he and his friend’s favorite spot, but not allowing us entrance to a certain part that he says was just for them, one can’t help but be moved to tears.

Finally, the movie also introduces us to Ja’Maya, a young woman who found an alternative, but equally dangerous, option to suicide.  Proving that it is not only the physically weaker that get picked on, Ja’Maya was a successful student athlete but was still bullied to the point that she saw no alternative but to take her mother’s gun aboard the school bus and threaten the lives of her classmates.  Unfortunately, while focusing on the bullying the movie doesn’t take time to examine just how Ja’Maya was so easily able to get her hands on her mother’s gun.  This has been becoming an increasingly hotter topic in the news lately, as more and more stories are popping up about kids getting a hold of their parents’ firearms and harming classmates.  Although it wasn’t the focus of the film, it would have been nice if the fimmakers had spent a little bit of time on it.

Although the filmmakers stay somewhat passive—there’s no big Michael Moore “we’re going to make a radical public statement” moment—the film grants an avenue for those who have been directly effected by this problem to make their pleas.  They show us the parents of the lost kids as they try to make a difference by organizing Town Hall meetings and Facebook groups determined to gather enough voices to “Stand for the Silent” and get the school districts to take notice.

Bully does tackle an important topic and bring things to light that need to be, but there were a few questions that came up while watching this movie.  First of all, how were the actions of the bullies on screen effected by the presence of the camera?  Were they more violent because they were on camera, or did they hold back?  Was the Assistant Principal—a villain worthy of boos and hisses if I’ve ever seen one—acting differently for the cameras than she might normally?

One thing missing from the movie was a recap of where all these figures are now that the movie is being released.  It would be interesting in about five years or so to get an update on where all these people are.  Is the Assistant Principal now working a drive-thru?  Did Ja’Maya get back on the straight and narrow?  Mostly, it would be nice to know how the release of this film affects the life of the shy Alex.  Is he left alone now?  Or does his presence in this film make the bullying even worse?  Let’s hope it’s the former.

Bully is rated PG-13 for “some language.”  There are only one or two scenes that really contain objectionable language and the PG-13 rating certainly feels more accurate than the original R.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Bully.