The ratings flap surrounding the new documentary “Bully” has actually worked to the film’s benefit. By originally assigning an R rating to a film that should be seen by adolescents and teens, the MPAA ratings board and its nonsensical policies has brought more attention to the movie than it otherwise would’ve received. (A late-day appeal has brought the film a PG-13 rating.)
In fact, one might almost suspect movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing “Bully,” of fanning the controversy just a bit. But whatever works: “Bully” is certainly a harrowing movie that deserves to get around.
In fact, if the movie can be trusted, the audience most in need of seeing this film consists of parents and school administrators. They’re the ones who seem most at sea when dealing with issue of bullying.
In a couple of the cases, parents have learned lessons too late, and dedicate their efforts to awareness of the bullying epidemic after their children have committed suicide, at least in part because of abuse.
We skip around a half-dozen or so locations in the U.S., focusing on children who have been picked out for special torment. One teenage girl, for instance, has learned the cost of being gay in Tuttle, Okla.; initially, she and her father speak of the need to change people’s minds, but eventually they are ground down by the hostility and hatred sent in her direction.
A 12-year-old named Alex is on screen more than anyone; born very premature and carrying some level of disability, he is accompanied by hidden cameras at school and, a particular zone for violence, the school bus. (I wish filmmakers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen had explained how they got this footage; you’re left to assume another student was carrying an unobtrusive smart phone or something.)
Well-meaning parents and ineffectual school administrators alike seem bizarrely unaware of the abuse going on under their noses. There’s one school in particular that offers a series of touchy-feely platitudes that come to sound increasingly idiotic, especially in a scene where an administrator chastises a bullied kid for refusing to shake the hand of the bully, telling him that his refusal makes him just as bad as the bully. Teachable moment: fail.
Maybe these people are in denial, or maybe stuck in a previous generation’s belief that getting bullied tests and builds character. Whatever it is, while you’re watching the movie, you just want somebody to get poor Alex out of a situation where he’s in physical danger every single day.
So yes, “Bully” should be seen. But anybody surprised by its content has either forgotten childhood realities or has been in denial, too.
“Bully” (3 stars)
A documentary that succeeds at highlighting the bullying in U.S. schools, focusing on a half-dozen or so stories (a couple of which have already ended in suicide). Scenes of kids getting bullied are interwoven with scenes of clueless administrators and well-meaning parents who have either been in denial or have roused themselves to eloquence on the subject.
Rated: PG-13 for language, violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Pacific Place, Thornton Place.