Film: 'Bully' tells tale of cruelty and youth
By BARBARA VANCHERI Scripps Howard News Service
"Bully" holds a mirror up to the country and shows that parents stunned by tragedy can become unlikely but remarkable leaders.
Alex Libby has become the face of bullying victims, but he's one of the lucky ones.
He has been making the rounds of interviews for "Bully" and lived to tell about the abuse he suffered at the bus stop, on the bus and in school, where classmates called him names, threatened to break his Adam's apple, tried to strangle him, banged his head into a bus seat and used language no 12-year-old should ever hear.
He was alive for filmmaker Lee Hirsch to shadow for "Bully," unlike Tyler Long, 17, seen only through the prism of old home movies when he was a sunny toddler in diapers or mugging for the camera or riding his bike, protective helmet firmly in place.
That was before he was insulted, before he was reduced to tears and then reached the point where he didn't even cry anymore, before he was called worthless and told to hang himself.
That's what the Murray County, Ga., boy did, in his bedroom closet where a little brother found him. Although Slate.com recently has accused Hirsch of omitting some salient facts about Tyler and simplifying the connection between bullying and suicide, there's no disputing that he was picked on, he now lies buried in Georgia and his family is heartbroken.
"Bully" has been in the news due to the MPAA's decision to give the documentary an R rating and the Weinstein Co.'s appeal, loss and subsequent decision to release the movie unrated. On April 5, however, a compromise was struck and the distributor cut a few F-words so the movie could get the PG-13 it deserves and needs.
This movie should be seen by tweens, teens, parents, educators and others. It's eye-opening and alarming to hear Alex say that the bullies were just "messing around" or to watch the funeral of an 11-year-old Oklahoma boy who shot himself and see one of his playmates serve as a pallbearer.
The director, who had been bullied as a child, chronicled bullying during the 2009-10 school year, and he manages to do something commendable. Rather than taking the easy out -- stats, charts, talking heads, archival footage -- he took a boots-on-the-ground approach.
He rode the school bus with Alex in Sioux City, Iowa, and captured a 16-year-old from Tuttle, Okla., and her parents, who were shunned after the girl announced she was a lesbian, and went into a Mississippi juvenile detention center where a 14-year-old girl was held after waving her mother's handgun at tormentors on her bus.
"Bully" is missing the voices of the bullies and why they feel they can pound, emotionally or physically, on others. Do they witness or experience violence at home, or are they just mean girls or boys? Also, the focus is more rural than urban, and while cyber-bullying is mentioned, we don't see the torment that can bring.
It's shocking to watch an assistant principal at Alex's school brush off his parents' legitimate concerns about the safety on the bus or naively think ordering middle-schoolers to shake hands will make everything dandy.
Nevertheless, "Bully" holds a mirror up to the country and shows that parents stunned by tragedy can become unlikely but remarkable leaders.
"We're just a bunch of simple people, we're nobodies," insists Kirk Smalley. But he and his wife, Laura Smalley, aren't nobodies; they're the parents of an 11-year-old Oklahoma boy named Ty who killed himself, and they started an anti-bullying organization called Stand for the Silent that eventually took them to the White House.
Ty cannot speak for himself, but his parents can, and so can the filmmaker. And so can anyone who suspects his or her child is a victim of bullying or a bully, or who drives a school bus or teaches a class or coaches a team or simply observes behavior that's disturbing.
It's not hyperbole to say that it could be a matter of life and death.
Rating: PG-13. Contains brief strong language (including a few F-words), talk about suicide and scenes of bullying.
Courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service