Friday, April 6, 2012

The Bridge to Somewhere

Bully       WWW Score: 88%

Let's get something out of the way before proceeding, the MPAA should be immediately disbanded for initially doling out an 'R' rating to 'Bully'. It's incomprehensibly inane. This is a film that deals with one of the most important but least discussed topics of our time - restricting the audience due to a single rating-tipping "f-bomb" is nearly as angering as the subject at hand.

Make no mistake about it, you'll be enraged after watching 'Bully', a riveting but not entirely satiating documentary that at a minimum starts the conversation we all need to be having.

'Bully' unleashes its most impactful blow just moments in with a father's unsettling account of his son's suicide after years of torment. The dad, David Long, has fears his first born Tyler will be "be victimized" later in life due to the toddler's hypersensitivity to his surroundings. The image of an innocent child tossing a basketball through a hoop while held high in the air by his father, contrasted with the unspeakable outcome of the little one's life is emotionally brutal to absorb - even more so if you happen to be a father.

Following a hauntingly hypnotic rendition of 'Teenage Dirtbag', director Lee Hirsch glides from one rural community to another for a glimpse into the lives of emotionally and physically battered young souls. 12-year-old Alex's abuse - arguably the film's centerpiece - begins the moment he boards the bus. Kids call him "fish face" and threaten to "tear his head off" as he makes his way to middle school in Sioux City, Iowa.

The assistant principal of the place comes off as completely clueless to the actual damage being inflicted on a daily basis, urging kids to "try to get along" and "be friends" as a boy tells her of his unending harassment. The woman would be convicted in court of being an enabler in the bullying process.

Hirsch covers a ton of ground, from a young Mississippi girl who whips out a gun to take back control of her domain to an 11-year-old Georgia boy who ends his life after being repeatedly targeted, the number of subjects featured is arguably to the film's detriment. While each of the kids has a heartbreaking story to tell, 'Bully' would be better served with a tighter focus and fewer balls in play; less diffused.

There are numerous missed opportunities to delve deeper into exactly why this is happening. How are the tormentors' feet not put to the flame by Hirsch? Why are the school administrators not held more accountable or at a minimum questioned about their culpability? Michael Moore wouldn't play like that.

While 'Bully' builds the bridge to begin the conversation, it pulls too many punches in the process. What should have been blindingly effectual is lessened by - ironically - a lack of killer instinct. Here's to hoping Mr. Moore is available for the sequel.