Sunday, April 8, 2012

BULLY (2012)

Directed by Lee Hirsch

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  April 3, 2012  6:00PM

The subject of bullying is something most people have had some form of personal experience with during their adolescence as they either have been the victim of the act, been the actual culprit or have simply witnessed the bullying. The documentary, "Bully" addresses this serious problem and explores how students and parents have come up with a plan to try and combat the issue.

I have to admit that while watching the film, memories came flooding back of moments when I had been bullied and I found myself actually getting anxious which surprised me as I am very far removed from my childhood. It shows me how deeply these acts can effect people many years after the fact.

The film opens with the tragic consequences of relentless bullying with the family of  Tyler Long, a teen from Georgia who took his own life in 2009, as they try to cope with the loss and to make some kind of sense of how these actions could push him to want to end his young life.

"Bully" tries to answer these questions as it explores the effects of the mental and physical abuse these children have to endure as they are simply trying to get an education in the public school system. We follow a few teenagers from rural areas across the country who tell their stories; We first meet Tyler, a sweet-natured twelve year old who keeps to himself and has difficulty making friends. He is teased and punched daily while his parents are becoming concerned as Tyler is more withdrawn and appearing desensitized to what is happening to him.

Kelby came out as a lesbian at sixteen in her small town in Oklahoma and she and her family were immediately shunned by the community. She received verbal abuse not only from her fellow students but also from her teachers who seemed to encourage the taunts. Kelby tries to remain at her school in the hope of being able to enlighten people but as time goes by, there seems little hope of that occurring.

Fourteen year old, Ja'Meya, a mild-mannered girl from Mississippi was mercilessly picked on every day until she finally snapped. While riding home on the school bus, she brandished her mother's gun on her tormentors. Ja'Meya is arrested, placed in juvenile detention and put under psychiatric observation. Her helpless mother tries to console her daughter as she struggles to keep the faith that Ja'Meya will be able to return home soon.

The parents of these students have all gone for help from the school system on numerous occasions but they are met with either indifference or seem to want to blame the behavior of the abused. After the suicide of another teenager, Ty Smalley in Oklahoma, his parents started an organization, I Stand For The Silent whose mission is to end bullying and to save lives.

The director, Lee Hirsch, whose first documentary feature, "Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony" about the history of the South African anti-apartheid movement told through music, won an Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, was personally effected by bullying as he was a victim himself and became the inspiration to make this film. "Bully" is fairly straight-forward in it's approach and because of the subject matter, there's no need for a lot of razzle-dazzle but I had a couple of issues. The use of the Internet as a weapon to further humiliate was briefly touched on by a parent but I wish this had been further explored in the film as many parents have no real clue on how technology has made it even easier to torture their children and the camerawork (which was done by Hirsch) was frustrating as there were way too many shots that started off out of focus. These are minor complaints as the message of the film to end the abuse and empower people to take a stand is far too important.

As for the MPAA's decision to give "Bully" an "R" rating strictly because of language is outrageous and completely undeserved. The use of these words is not gratuitous but simply presented to show how kids today actually communicate with each other. If this group (which is made up largely of a collection of very concerned parents) thought they were protecting their young innocents from dangerous curse words, then they are sadly out of touch as the few F-bombs uttered is mild compared to what I have overheard come out of the mouths of today's average teenager. I just wish the MPAA would be just as concerned about the amount of violence that is allowed to be casually shown in a "PG-13" film.

"Bully" helps shed much needed light to this important issue and while it's far from a new problem, many just are not aware how much more dangerous and traumatizing it has become for young people. Despite the unnecessarily strong rating, I would strongly urge parents to take their children to see this powerful film and discuss it with them.