'Bully' doesn't show whole picture of problem

Bullying is bad. 

Those are the three words that essentially sum up Lee Hirsch’s new documentary, “Bully,” and no one can say those words don’t have impact.

Bullying has always been somewhat of a problem in school settings, simply because, well, kids are mean. They’re immature, or they have their own problems so they feel the need to take it out on another kid who’s weaker. 

Bullying has been magnified to be a bigger problem than realized with recent instances of teenagers committing suicide — coupled with the perception that it’s being tolerated, not only by other students but also by teachers and school employees.

Hirsch’s documentary calls attention to the problem by looking at a handful of extreme cases. Instead of making a slick documentary with fancy graphs, goofy visual aids and a plethora of outside commentators like psychologists, college professors or authors, Hirsch and his crew simply embed themselves into the lives involved in each case and tell it from the victim’s point of view, which is effective to a certain extent.


Five kids, same problem

The movie focuses on five different kids and their families. Two of them — Tyler Long of Chattsworth, Ga., and Ty Smalley of Perkins, Okla. — took their lives because they were bullied. 

Another, 16-year-old Kelby of Tuttle, Okla., was ostracized by other members of her small town because she was gay. Kelby had to stop playing softball and basketball due to the verbal abuse from her teammates. 

Then there’s 14-year-old Ja’meya from Yahzoo County, Miss., who was so fed up with bullying that she took her mother’s gun and threatened a group of kids on her bus. She was subsequently put in a juvenile detention facility.

Meanwhile, their teachers and other school workers let it happen and, in Kelby’s case, participate in the bullying.

There’s no doubt that every single one of these stories is absolutely devastating, but all four of these stories are the most extreme cases.

The far more fascinating story revolves around 12-year-old Alex of Sioux City, Iowa. Alex isn’t a gay student struggling in Bible-belt Oklahoma, and he didn’t pull a gun on fellow students. He’s just an average kid who’s…different. 

He’s a bright, young man, but he’s not good at fitting into social situations or making friends, and sadly, he lets other kids beat him up on the bus in the morning before school in an attempt to just be noticed. We all know someone like Alex — that’s where “Bully” deserves the most praise, for pointing out the average bullying victim.


An unbalanced look

It’s very difficult to not feel something, but at the same time, the film is unbalanced. Hirsch makes sure we see plenty of Alex and Kelby and the rest of the victims go through pain and suffering, as well as the parents (there are many crying scenes), but he doesn’t bother talking about the bullies. 

And the only glimpses we get of the school district employees are all horrible. At Alex’s school, there’s one vice principal we see multiple times who’s made out to be the Antichrist. 

Also, I don’t think it would have hurt if Hirsch had interviewed a few child psychologists or professors just so we could get a neutral view on bullying and therein go much deeper into the topic itself. 

There are great intentions behind this movie. In terms of getting the word out about bullying, “Bully” should be made, and anyone who doesn’t think bullying is a problem should see this. 

But in terms of filmmaking, “Bully” could do much better in further exploring the overall subject of bullying, as opposed to just saying “bullying is bad” for 95 minutes. If Hirsch’s goal was to do that, it would have been better for him to make a 30-minute film and release it virally, like the “Kony 2012” video: More people would see it, and it would be a much swifter and efficient call to action.

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