It’s authentic, heartbreaking and dynamic. And, for once, the stories of the estimated 13 million children bullied each year are told in a broad way.
The highly anticipated Bully is finally released and though the PG-13 documentary is certainly worth watching, stories seem to be only half told.
Bully, which had its local premiere last September in the San Diego Film Festival, is showing now at two theaters—at Hillcrest Cinemas and AMC La Jolla Village 12.
The film, directed by Lee Hirsch, tells the story of five children from small towns and their struggles with bullying. Two of those profiled—Tyler Long and Ty Smalley—committed suicide at the ages of 17 and 11. Filmmakers interview their parents in the movie.
But the movie digs deeper by following the life of Alex Libby, a 12-year-old boy living in Sioux City, IA. Filmmakers follow Alex at home, at school and on the bus on the way to school as he is tortured by his peers to the point where he says, “They push me so far that I want to become the bully.”
In another town, 16-year-old Kelby Johnson from “Bible Belt Oklahoma” is taunted for being a lesbian and must endure slurs like faggot. The optimistic girl tells filmmakers she knows it will get better for her and she’s thankful for the few friends she has to “protect” her.
But Alex, as the movie shows, isn’t so lucky. He rolls solo in the film with an administration that tells his parents that the buses where kids slam his head into seats and tell him they’ll f—ing end him are “as good as gold.”
The compelling 90-minute film offers some glimmer of hope by ending with Tyler’s father, David, and supporters of his campaign Stand for the Silent.
Although the film successfully highlights bullying and makes clear that it is a problem that should no longer be ignored—it fails in some areas. It doesn’t offer balance—ignoring the administration (for the most part) that’s largely criticized, doesn’t talk to the bullies or the parents of the bullies, and perhaps even child psychologists or experts.
In one scene, filmmakers show a young boy say he was bullied until he stood up for himself, but doesn’t dig deeper into finding out exactly what he did to stand up for himself.
Did he resort to violence? Did he simply use words? How did he stand up for himself? And how can children like Alex stand up for themselves?
The movie doesn’t say. It encourages advocacy but doesn’t tell us what we should do.
Although the movie doesn’t offer clear ways to tackle bullying, it’s a documentary that starts the dialogue needed and speaks for the children silently hurting.