Film: “Bully” not what it should’ve been


April 27th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Speaking about an important issue is often different from having something important to say about an issue. From the Movieha podcast, Ryan Syrek and Matt Lockwood take a look at Bully.

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Ryan: You probably remember the kerfuffle surrounding the “R” rating that was given to director Lee Hirsch’s movie Bully, right?

Matt: Oh, I never forget a kerfuffle. I can ignore a frickasee and look past a hootinanny, but never a kerfuffle.

Bully will be screened free of charge for teens at Aksarben Cinema on Sunday, April 29th. A community discussion is planned at Aksarben on Tuesday, May 1st at 6:30pm hosted by the Anti-Defamation League.

Ryan: Assigned the harsh rating for language alone, the Weinstein Company made a big public fuss about how this is a movie that’s important for kids to see and pointed out that these words are a part of most kids’ lives already.

Matt: As it turns out the discussion ABOUT the movie is actually more substantial than the discussion provided BY the movie, as Bully is little more than an hour and a half of sorrow. Without statistics to provide scope or external observers to provide context, the film focuses on people like Alex, who is called fish face and frequently punched on the bus, or Kelby, who is ostracized for revealing her sexuality.

Ryan: This is all quite moving. Particularly the opening, which details the story of a young boy who hung himself after relentless torture by his classmates. Scenes that capture the offenses in the moment are somewhat revealing, as is footage of the subsequent inability or unwillingness of teachers and administrators to stop it. But ultimately, this is kind of sadness pornography; it is 90 minutes of watching kids get abused with little to no hope provided by the end.

Matt: This emotional snuff film doesn’t seem interested in exploring how we got to this point in America or even what motivates the abusers. Heck, the movie is called Bully and yet features exactly zero conversations with an actual bully. Clearly, Hirsch’s intent is pure, but everybody already knows that bullying is a bad thing. There are no pro-bullying lobbyists in Washington. Although all lobbyists are probably bullies, so scratch that.

Ryan: The point is that showing anecdotal evidence of this kind of behavior adds nothing new to the dialogue. Had the film endeavored to show how widespread it is or how systemic it is, that would be different. But everything feels too threadbare. For example, even with LGBT teens killing themselves at an unheard of pace, Kelby’s story scores the least screentime, and we’re never even encouraged to consider the communal homophobia that causes her plight.

Matt: It’s not that Bully is bad, it just isn’t what it should have been. Had it started to examine the cause of bullying, pondered some solutions, or even brought new evidence to light, it would have been a vital advancement of a crucial conversation.

Ryan: Instead, it’s just a depressing experience that makes you glad you don’t have to be a kid these days.

Editorial note: The Movieha podcast is produced in partnership with The Reader and is available at

4 Responses

  1. F H says:

    The movie seemed to promote emotional healing ceremonies, but if a ceremony is held on Sunday but the bully shows up to school on Monday, the ceremony will just be a waste of effort. Before we go down the road of slactivist emotionalism, we need to get a better grip on the day-to-day management of bullying situations in schools. When bullying is a thing of the past, then we should ceremonially let it go. Not before.

    • Ryan Syrek says:

      I agree entirely. As much as I understand the “awareness factor” of such events, why is it that we haven’t started investigating what precipitates the bullying? We’re playing catch-up, and it’s hurting the kids.

  2. ginger perry says:

    Well – that’s it. I won’t see it now. I just don’t need that kind of misery for my viewing pleasure. Life is too short. I can imagine it… I mean . well enough not to see it. Thank you for this. How about CHIMPANZEE?

    • Ryan Syrek says:

      I haven’t seen Chimpanzee, but I have heard that it’s pretty decent for a nature doc. People seem to enjoy the narrative. There are a lot of things out there right now that are pretty good, actually, with much more on the way!

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