Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Bully

Film #473

THE PLOT

A documentary on peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America.

Year 3, Film #23

THE GOOD: Nothing can top the first six minutes of Bully. In the first six minutes we hear the story of Tyler Long, a seventeen year-old boy who was once energetic and happy, got quiet and sad after being bullied in school. Eventually the bullying got so bad that Tyler took his own life.

This story is emblematic of what the rest of the film is like. We follow several children, families, and even one school district across the United States and hear their stories. And all of these stories are horrifying to hear and sometimes tragic. These people we follow in Bully have all been deeply affected by bullying in schools and their emotion and passion on the subject comes through in a way that the only way you can react is in shock and disgust that things like this actually happen.

And that’s one of the strongest things about this film. Not necessarily that it raises awareness about this issue, but that it makes us realize how big of a problem it actually is. It’s undeniable that bullying occurs across the country, most likely on a daily basis. Most cases are probably unknown to anyone besides the kids themselves. But you get a few cases, like the ones we see in this documentary, where the proper authorities are notified about what’s going on and they don’t do anything about it because, at least most of the time, they say that “nothing can be done about it,” and pretend like it doesn’t occur.

One of the biggest revelations for me in the film is actually quite a minor one in the scheme of things, but it stood out for me. When Alex Libby’s parents go into school to talk with the principal, the mother reflects on how this behavior would not have been tolerated when she was in school. Her son was being physically abused (stabbed with pencils, punched) on the bus and all the other kids were standing up, running around, and generally causing mayhem with the bus driver focused only on the road in front of her. In the mother’s day, if one of the kids stood up, the bus driver would pull over and wouldn’t move again until everyone was seated. This is how it was like in my school district. Teasing, name-calling, and things of the sort existed, but never would you see the kind of abuse, physical and mental, the kids in this film were put through.

And that’s the thing with Bully. It’s not just about the stories, we see up close and personal what these kids are doing. What the filmmakers accomplished must have been no easy feat and they deserve many commendations for that. That the kids actually beat kids up and tease them the way they do, while horrible, isn’t too farfetched. That they would still do it while being filmed is what is extraordinary. Bully is able to capture bullying in such a way that you can’t do anything but want to speak up in outrage and do something about it. No one, after seeing this film, could possibly condone or in any way excuse the bullying that takes place everyday.

THE BAD: The sad part is that despite being outraged, many people probably won’t stand up and just watch things like this take place. And the worst part about this documentary is that it doesn’t really say how you should make a difference. There is a call-to-action at the end that encourages you to take a stand but it fails to demonstrate how to do so. Bully does a great job at making you sympathize with the kids and families you see, but other than leaving the film sad and upset yourself, we’re not really any close to solving the problem.

There are some half-baked solutions the film throws out like stand up for yourself (or someone else) and tell somebody about what’s going on. But that’s just as helpful as telling the bullied child to just get over it and suck it up. Chances are the reason kids don’t tell adults about what’s going on is because they don’t have enough courage and just simply telling them you should speak up won’t really give them that ability. There’s also several instances where the parents complain to the school administration that they should be doing their jobs of keeping the kids safe. The administrations always respond that there’s nothing to be done (which has to be false in most cases) but the parents don’t really counter with anything besides complaining some more. I understand that there’s probably no easy solution to this problem, but there has to be more to say about a solution than just “give it the ol’ college try.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Bully is an extremely powerful and eye-opening film that documents, both with stories and with actual footage, the bullying that occurs in schools today and the damage that comes from it. While the film could have done a better job with the solution part of the film and how we can combat this issue, the things we see in these 90 minutes can be enough to convince some people that enough is enough and something has to be done.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5