Movie review: Bully

From the April 12, 2012 edition

You’ve probably already heard of “Bully” from the controversy surrounding its rating — now a PG-13 despite a few F-bombs. Interestingly, the film reveals that five minutes on a school bus can definitely be R-rated.

Documentaries as social commentary are tricky business, especially when you run the risk of mishandling an important topic such as this.

“Bully” is challenging, often painfully moving, but it fails in an opportunity to be a definitive film about the subject. And that’s a shame.

The stories of bullying in the film are too common. It opens on a painfully raw interview with a parent of a boy who hung himself after years of bullying.

We meet Alex, a scrawny target for whom teasing and physical intimidation have simply become the norm. His acceptance of this and his seeming helplessness are heart-wrenching.

We meet Kelby, a teenage lesbian growing up in small-town Oklahoma who bravely decides to tough it out in hopes of changing her community.

Director Lee Hirsch creates a mosaic with these stories, depicting a world in which school administrators too often dismiss real problems as “kids being kids.”

One thing the film inexplicably doesn’t do is talk to a bully. It does little to try to understand why bullying exists in the first place, merely pointing out that it is a serious problem.

It’s worthwhile, but “Bully” could have been so much more.