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Bully (2011)

The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/12/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/20/2013

You often hear artists talking about doing art simply for the sake of doing art, but I don't buy it. Artists are typically looking for recognition, money, or both. Even the most anti-establishment performer would be lying if they said that they never wanted anyone to see their work. Say what you want, but everybody wants to be a rock star, even documentarians. Early last year, the documentary Bully made national headlines with the MPAA slapped it with an R-rating for language and disturbing. The Weinsteins lobbied for a PG-13, as they wanted the film to be seen by children, and they eventually won. So now the question is, did Bully deserve all of this attention?

Bully is a documentary which aims to examine the phenomenon of bullying in America, specifically amongst adolescents, the effect it has on the victims, and how the problem is handled by society. The film introduces us to three teenagers -- Alex, age 12, from Sioux City, Iowa; Kelby, age 16, from Tuttle, Oklahoma; and Ja'Meya, age 14, from Yazoo County Mississippi -- and explores how being bullied has effected their lives. Alex is teased and assaulted at school and has no friends. Kelby endured ridicule and was ostracized when she revealed that she was gay. Ja'Meya became fed up with being bullied on the bus and brought a gun to school. The primary focus is on Alex, as we see him being assaulted on the bus and the way in which his parents and school officials handle it. The movie also profiles Taylor from Murray County, Georgia and Ty from Perkins, Oklahoma, two teenaged boys who committed suicide, reportedly due to being bullied. The film offers interviews with the kids, the parents, and some members of the community, as well as a good deal of candid footage showing the kids trying to make it through the day.

Bully may have gotten publicity for its ratings debate and for the fact that it's bringing a problem to light about which many don't speak, but here's something else which needs to be discussed -- this is a poorly-made movie. Writer/Director Lee Hirsch's heart may be in the right place and he should be applauded for tackling a seemingly taboo subject, but that doesn't change the fact that he clearly doesn't know what he's doing as a director.

OK, let's discuss the problems with Bully. First of all, the focus is too narrow. Yes, the film examines the lives of three living children and two deceased ones in order to explore bullying, but all of the subjects are from rural areas which, judging by the film, are economically depressed. How is this a random sample? (The movie never promised a random sample, but if it wants to be a serious documentary, it should provide one.) Rednecks from the sticks bully people? What a shock! Does bullying not take place in the city or the suburbs? This movie would lead us to believe that is the case. And why did it only focus on these areas? (I must say that I was glad, for once, to see a movie that wasn't focusing on a poor, inner-city school.)

As for the subjects themselves, the movie thinks that it's giving us an intimate look at them, but it doesn't. Bully is sorely lacking in details. Alex often acts very awkward and seems to have difficulty speaking. We learn that he was born prematurely. Did this cause issues which are still effecting him today? Would that explain some of his behavior? Kelby talks about being bullied and yet, the only footage that we see is her having a good time with her friends. To quote Chris Rock, "I didn't have six friends in high school. I ain't got six friends now." Ja'Meya's story only scrapes the surface and we don't learn much about what caused her to retaliate. The movie implies that there is a history of bullying, but we don't learn much about it.

The film also lacks an objective view. When a good documentary is attempting to make a point, it will present both sides to some extent, but Bully never does this. We never hear from the accused bullies. I can understand that they wouldn't want to appear on-camera, but you could at least get an anonymous quote stating their side of the story. I doubt that anyone would want to come forward as being "pro-bully", but there should have been a discussion of Darwinism and social order. The movie also never lays out a clear-cut definition of bullying. Look, middle school is no picnic for most and we need parameters on where a bad situation becomes a tragic one. The movie's most glaring issue appears with Ty, who was raised in a house-hold which is so pro-hunting that it would make Ted Nugent blush. And yet, no one raises the point that a child had access to guns and killed himself. No one mentions that studies show that boys are more likely to carry out suicidal ideations due to the fact that they use guns. The whole time I kept thinking that this whole movie is about emotion and that there's no science or research behind it.

There's nothing wrong with a good deed until it becomes misguided. Someone should have taken Hirsch's idea to make a documentary about bullying and applied a scientific method to it. While it's great that Hirsch got access to these kids and their stories, where are the spokespeople from the mental health field? Where are statistics on bullying and its effects? Reports stated that one of the reasons which the Weinsteins battled the MPAA for a softer rating was so that pre-teens could see the film. That's a noble idea, but the sad thing is that few viewers that age would sit through this unfocused, meandering movie. Do I sound like a bully? I don't know, but the victims of bullying deserve a better movie than this.

Bully opens with a cool song and goes downhill from there on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of The Weinstein Company and Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear for the most part, showing only scant traces of grain and no defects from the source material. Hirsch did do a good job of keeping the lighting balanced, so, unlike some documentaries, we aren't left with any overly-dark scenes. The colors look good and the level of detail is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue, save for some scenes, where things are somewhat muffled. The school hallway shots provide some stereo and sound effects, as does the film's score, but otherwise, most of the audio comes from the center channel.

The Bully Blu-ray Disc contains many extra features. We get a special edited 47-minute version of the film for younger audience. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 13 minutes. This contains extra moments with Alex and Kelby, as well as a long scene with a child who is not featured in the finished film. "The Bully Project at Work" (7 minutes) shows how the anti-bullying program is being used at one California school. "Alex after Bully" (4 minutes) is a woefully bad segment which tells us that Alex has moved, but it never explains why. It also shows how Alex has changed, which is good, but is sorely lacking in details. "Alex's Character Sketch" (2 minutes) and "Kelby's Original Sketch" (90 seconds) has the two kids describing themselves and their situations. "Alex Raps" (2 minutes) has Alex rapping with Sean Kingston at an awards event. "Meryl Streep on Bullying" (2 minutes) has the actress commenting on the film at a screening. "Communities in Motion" (5 minutes) is a brief piece in which the way an anti-bullying plan is carried out in a school using peer support. We see how parents and schools came together to work on the problem in "Sioux City after Bully" (7 minutes). "Good Morning America" (8 minutes) re-plays a segment where the movie was profiled on the morning show. "Kevin Jennings, An Advocate's Perspective" (2 minutes) offers comments from the Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. "We are Daniel Cui" (3 minutes) shows how a high school soccer goalie was cyber-bullied.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013