Tyler looked like an adorable kid in the home movies. "He always had an infectious laugh," his dad tells us. But as he grew older, he became more introverted. He wasn't very athletic, always the last to be chosen for team sports. Some kids called him names, such as "geek" or "fag." At first Tyler cried... "and then he didn't cry." Tyler's dad goes on: "Some kids had told him to go hang his self... that he was worthless. I think he got to a point where enough was enough." Tyler's dad has to speak for him now because Tyler finally did hang himself.
The movie follows five kids who are still the victims of bullying, including 12-year-old Alex. Alex has a strong overbite, which is the reason kids in school call him "fish face."
"I don't mind," Alex tells us. We first meet Alex at home, and we notice the overbite, too. But we also notice that Alex is a gentle, sweet kid, who seems totally normal. He tells us that he's nervous about going back to school. He "likes learning," but he has "trouble making friends." And when Alex takes the bus to school, we see right away why Alex is nervous. When he glances at another kid, it sets off a tirade of verbal abuse: "If you keep watching me, I'll kick the crap out of you. I'll cut you up. I'll fuck you up the ass. You'll be in so much pain..." And the violence isn't just verbal.
Bully is a documentary that not only follows bullying victims; it gives us a look at their whole environment -- parents, other kids, teachers and communities. We see there's no single cause of bullying, and we also see that it can't be solved one kid at a time. We see, for example, that the response of adults varies: "you've got to stand up for yourself"; "kids will be kids"; "it's complicated"; "you must have done something to deserve it."
The filmmakers managed to get amazing access, possibly because many didn't think there was anything wrong going on. We see many candid moments that are quite telling. The filmmakers leave it to us to decide what to make of what we see. When we see the problem through the eyes of children who are bullied, it's painfully evident that many of them are going to be bullied no matter what they do -- fighting back, ignoring it, staying silen, or reporting it. Some of these kids deserve a medal just for going into the combat zone (school) every day.
The film also introduces us to a movement to end bullying, which is the one bright spot of the movie. There's no doubt that this is a film that should be seen, but is it a film that goes down like medicine or is it engaging and interesting? While the entertainment value is certainly eclipsed by the social significance, I think it's fair to say it's an engaging, well-told drama about kids struggling against overwhelming odds. Jason Bourne, for example, never has to deal with such overwhelming odds --- maybe 13 million kids a year shouldn't have to, either.
4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4) An important, well done film that shines a light on a growing problem -- it should be seen by both adults and kids
Popcorn Profile Rated: UR (Violence, language) Audience: Young adults & Grown-ups Gender: Co-ed Distribution: Mainstream limited release Mood: Sober Tempo: Cruises comfortably Visual Style: Unvarnished realism Character Development: Engaging Language: True to life Social Significance: Informative & Thought provoking
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You may also want to read about other documentaries on Popcorn Diary:
A Film Unfinished http://www.popcorndiary.com/PagesClassics/cla_film_unfinished.htm
Mad Hot Ballroom http://www.popcorndiary.com/PagesClassics/cla_mad_hot_ballroom.htm