May 17, 2012

'Bully' emotionally powerful, painful


---- — Every once in a while, a movie comes along that can actually make a difference in people's lives. The documentary "Bully" is one of those movies.

Created by filmmaker Lee Hirsch over a year's time, with one small, handheld camera, "Bully" follows five families who have been affected to varying degrees by bullying in the school system.

Two families have lost bullied children to suicide. Fourteen-year-old Ja'Meya was pushed to the point where she brought her mother's gun onto a school bus. Kelby, 16, is ostracized — by students and teachers — for being gay.

Most poignant is the story of 12-year-old Alex, who was born prematurely and now suffers every day. Gangly but good-hearted, Alex is physically and emotionally tortured — much of it caught on film — simply because he's got bad teeth, thick glasses and an awkward manner.

"Bully" doesn't spend any time talking to experts or educators or child psychologists. It merely tells the stories of these five families, trying to make sense of a situation that we're told touches 18 million American students every year. The film is emotionally powerful, and painful at times. It will — or should — make any parent cry.

The film doesn't get into the heads of the bullies, and it doesn't really offer a solution. It certainly brings awareness of the problem, however, and it will definitely spark discussion.

It can also show adults how NOT to handle the situation, a task handled in the film by one infuriating administrator who seems to think having a victim shake hands with his tormentor will make everything better.

"Bully," unfortunately, only has a one-week run locally, ending today at the Cumberland 12 Cinemas.

If it pops up again at the theater — or when it is available on DVD — it should be required viewing at every junior high school in the area, and really, the country.

I don't know if "Bully" can penetrate the skulls of the actual bullies, but it will let victims know they are not alone, will help adults understand this is not just "boys being boys" and perhaps most importantly, it could make bystanders realize that they can make a difference.

Rental Recommendation: No, it's not a realistic interpretation of bullying, but the good guys will win in "Revenge of the Nerds." Grade: B

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