Film review: Bully

Bully
2011
The Bully Project, Where We Live Films

WRITTEN BY Cynthia Lowen
PRODUCED BY Cynthia Lowen, Lee Hirsch, Cindy Waitt
DIRECTED BY Lee Hirsch

SHOT BY Lee Hirsch
EDITED BY Lindsay Utz, Jenny Golden, Enat Sidi
MUSIC BY Ion Furjanic, Justin Rice, Christian Rudder
DISTRIBUTED BY The Weinstein Company

Screened 2012-04-10

Bully follows an extremely awkward twelve year old boy named Alex who looks suspiciously like Butthead (of the duo) and, I’m sorry to say, has just about as much social capacity. It’s hard to tell exactly why Alex is so antisocial, so unquestioningly accepting of the abuse he receives; but I sensed more nature than nurture. Yes, bullying may make a boy introverted, shy, defensive, but Alex is seemingly oblivious in a way sensitive children are not, appearing more like a kid with a condition (Asperger’s, autism, who knows). Alex’s regular old American parents view video footage of him being abused on his morning bus route, realize the scope of his problem and take it to the school’s assistant principal, for the Nth time. Director Hirsch paints this woman as a monstrous, doublespeaking, hypocritical shrew, though admittedly it would be hard to edit that footage to make it appear otherwise. The result? A disconnected grandmother figure gives a quiet “good talking to” to a few bad apples from the bus route. And that is it for The Alex Problem.

There’s a black girl named Ja’Maya and a very happy and healthy lesbian named Kelby who we cut back to during the film about three times apiece – to follow their progress? No, nothing really changes in their lives… Ja’Maya gets the good ol American Black Bootheel and we are meant to become infuriated… Kelby gets the good ol American Gay Boothell, and we are meant to become infuriated (even though Kelby looks like she’s thriving with an adorable lesbian girlfriend and sensitive, supportive group of friends who follow her around like she’s Christ). And a few other times we cut, without reason, to young victims of abuse or parents of those victims – everybody is crying, wounded, pained, lost. “We’re nobodies,” say the shattered parents of a 12 year old suicide case. “I bet if it were some senator’s kid, they’d be doing something.” If I were a betting man, I’d bet Hirsch thinks so too – Hirsch, who was bullied as a child.

Is there a bullying problem in America? Sure. Clearly it’s only the tip of the Iceberg of American Emptiness, that old mystery. It is insinuated that there is a general lack of enforcement, that the children are utterly distracted and really quite out of control. Insinuated, but, like every other idea within this Pity Party of a film, never remotely elaborated upon. Lee Hirsch is not inclined to investigate The Bullying Problem and would prefer to spend the entire film lingering on one sad soul after another, our eyes quite unable to ignore his blatant heartstring twanging. These moments are like the simperingly saccharine manipulations of Michael Moore, yet lacking Moore’s social conscience. Just think about how unbearable that sounds. Hirsch only lets us see situations as he does, forgoing the camera’s objective eye, never standing back and letting us watch like proper voyeurs (as cinema would have us be). He gets down on his hands and knees and sticks his face uncomfortably close to the thing he’s looking at, not unlike a dog or cat sniffing an object of interest. This analogy further helps to explain Hirsch’s method of videography which is conceivably meant to emulate “the perspective of a modern child,” one whose focus never stops bobbing, shifting and blurring. I do wonder if he knows what he’s doing. Cutting to “birds in flight” is, after all, a disqualifying move for a contender.

A few other flies buzz around this production: the exclusion, wouldn’t you know it, of a dead child’s status as autistic, and the Weinstein rating debacle (blown completely out of proportion). I’m starting to think the problem is the press. Nothing is important – but since every person now has a voice, a complete reevaluation of the processes of media must be undertaken lest we drown. I suppose this was inevitable. I am hopeful – I do tend to believe that progress is a human inevitability. Provided we survive. That’s really all it boils down to. Nuke the Whales.

written by David Ashley

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