Harvey Weinstein really, really wanted as many people as possible to go see Bully, the new documentary from Lee Hirsch that chronicles the painful in-and-around-school struggles of five different heartland kids – and not just because the guy’s trying to make the film a success for The Weinstein Company, which is distributing the buzzy thing, but because it is an important film.
The award-winning producer so believed in the importance of the project, he totally went for broke and famously appealed the R-rating that the Motion Picture Association of America gave Bully (he was set on a more young’un-friendly PG-13). He was so adamant that doc be seen by the widest audience possible that he even decided to send Bully out to theaters unrated late last month, just so that folks could see the film as it was meant to be. (The Weinstein Company has since cut a PG-13 version, though.)
Now, as Bully makes its way to Miami and to more and more cities across the nation, the dialogue about the troubling reality that is bullying in America is becoming more and more of a topic of much-needed conversation and, I should hope, analysis.
Like, did y’all know that an estimated 13 million young people will be bullied in American schools this year. Add to that the countless of adults that are harassed for whatever reason and you have an epidemic. Because, let’s not mince words, this is a major problem.
So the obvious question is, Why is that?
Bully doesn’t do a very good job of looking into that – its goal, while loafty, is unevenly thought out. It desperately, almost, wants to tug at heartstrings. Which is fine and dandy, but this is a documentary. I would’ve liked to see a little more examination, a little more asking of the why a bully bullies, y’ know.
Instead, Hirsch focused on his worthy subjects – five kids from different ages living in different cities but facing a familiar common foe: an unwarranted and merciless and sometimes-violent persecution by peers. He also involved their families members – who often either don’t know what’s going on or how to help – like the parents of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, two teenagers who took their own lives after the constant bullying they endured got to be too much.
He tells those stories, which, again, must be told and appreciated by as many people as possible, and he mostly succeeds at painting a full picture...but that’s because these boys and girls have stories to tell. Among them is Alex (pictured here).
When we meet this sweet-natured 12-year-old boy from Sioux City, Iowa, you can tell from the weight in his eyes that he’s a seasoned...victim. There’s a scene in which his mother and he are talking about how he seems to have gotten used to the daily abuse, and the kid – who’s way hella stronger than he knows (he was born premature, after just 26 weeks in the oven, so hello, survivor!) – tells his misty-eyed mom that if he doesn’t put up with the shoving and taunting (he’s nicknamed Fish Face), he’ll have nothing and no one.
His unaware insight is heartbreaking, alright, so it doesn’t much matter what anyone has to say about the film because, as I said, it is a must – and you have to see it and bring as many peeps with you as possible, especially kids.
Sidebar: I grew up in Peru, a developing country I bet lots of (ignorant) folks in the United States believe to be on the savage side. I was bullied and I did my fair share of bullying, albeit defensively (honest!), but the teasing, as personal as it was known to get, wasn’t as pervasively...mean and plain ol’ horrific as it is here.
There is an underlying stress and violent streak in the hallways of American schools that is troublesome and, worst of all, poorly addressed. As wicked as my friends and I got, we weren't just asked to talk about it – we were made to deal with the consequences of our actions and of our words. We were encouraged to confront out small-mindedness, and our behavior wasn’t scapegoated by some esoteric, maybe-real condition.
Here, you’re told to write down the details of the incident in a journal and you go on your merry way to keep being bugged or bugging the next person you think of as weak. If you’re a parent, you’re told everything is peachy as can be. Denial is the first response.
As essential as Bully is, its message would have had a stronger landing had it addressed why America is so lazy when it comes to taking a harder look within itself.
Perhaps problems such as bullying would be better managed if it did.
My Rating ***
Photo: The Weinstein Company.