Thursday, April 26, 2012


seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

For what it's worth, I saw the PG-13 version of Bully and I'm convinced that the big rating hoo-hah that preceded this film's release was a whole lotta nothing in the end. Say what you will about the film's uber-producer Harvey Weinstein, but at the very least, I can see why he chose to champion this film. It's moving and powerful, and the bullied children, along with their families and friends, eloquently lay bare the narratives of their lives. It's tough to sit through at times, but it's worth the effort.

That said, I don't think Bully was as comprehensive a film as it could have been. Why? No one talked to any actual bullies! As harrowing and at times even inspiring, the stories of the bullied children are, after awhile one gets the feeling of preaching to the choir. We all agree that bullying children is wrong and that something should be done about it, but in order to do that, I feel it's necessary to first ask: why does it happen?

Bullying is not an inherent act; it must be learned. It's an act that transcends gender, race, environment and generation. Without getting too deep into psychology and sociology, I think it's safe to say that it's learned from being around other peers, and is the result of a variety of societal pressures and fears. But talking to actual bullies and finding out straight from them why they harass other kids would've been as enlightening as hearing from the bullied - not to lay blame, not to antagonize, but simply to understand. The more I watched Bully, the more I felt that it was a little bit one-sided.

Still, when you see these stories unfold, you can hardly blame director Lee Hirsch for wanting to give as much time to them as possible. A few highlights: the town meeting held by the parents of the teenager who killed himself, in which an entire community bares its pain over the effects of bullying; the mother of the girl who faced her tormentors with a stolen gun, hugging and singing to her daughter; the father of the small-town lesbian teen, saying how he never truly understood what it meant to walk in another's shoes until he raised a gay child in an intolerant town. These are only a few of the images that linger long after seeing this film.

From a different angle, I was quite curious as to how they filmed the scenes on the school bus with Alex, the Iowa tween who is shockingly blase about the amount of bullying he gets. It looked like there was an actual cameraman on the bus and not a hidden camera, so if that was the case, how did they get the kids to act normally and not mug for the camera?

Reality television has challenged our perception of filmed, intimate (read: unscripted) moments, and while this is certainly not unique to Bully, there were a few scenes where I couldn't help but wonder at the level of veracity. I'm talking about any scene meant to be spontaneous, but filmed from more than one angle, such as the bus scenes. Seeing cuts in such scenes make me think there's a "jump" in time implied. While it's possible that there was more than one camera on that bus, how likely is it - especially when one is specifically after naturalism uninhibited by the presence of cameras? Like I said, this is not something unique to this film, but I couldn't help but think about it as I watched.

Regrettably, I had to take action against a chronic cell phone user while watching Bully. I was in Theater 6 of the Kew Gardens, a small screening room, half of which has stadium seating. I was in the front left side of the first row of stadium-seating, and in a corner in the far rear, right side, was a middle-aged (I think) couple. There were perhaps a half-dozen other people in the room when the film started.

The woman's cell went off early. I didn't see her at first because she and her companion were so far back, but after the second time it went off, I spotted her. The movie was just loud enough at first that I could pay her yapping on the phone no mind, but I was getting irritated. The third time her cell went off, however, during a quieter moment, I got out of my seat, walked halfway up the stairs, pointed straight at her and demanded she get off the phone. (I even remembered to say please.) Surprisingly, she didn't put up a fight - and I was ready for one. I didn't hear her cell for the remainder of the flick.

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