Bully: Blu Ray Review
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment
Anyone who's experienced any level of bullying or who's always claimed ignorance of the issue will find something in this doco from Lee Hirsch.
Set in Middle America, it follows a clutch of kids whose lives are made hellish by the daily beatings, verbal smackdowns and general cruelty of kids in general and a system which seems determined to be nothing more than ineffectual.
Beginning with home video footage of a young boy, playing happily and gradually as the years go by becoming more withdrawn, the tone is set early on - it's a hard watch but one which is nothing less than compelling throughout even if some of the wider issues and backgrounds are a little ignored. 12-year-old Alex is the poster boy for bullying; born prematurely and cruelly dubbed Fishface by some in school, he's a loner who's punched on the bus for no reason, strangled and ostracised but yet who goes back every day to endure it all again and suffers in silence. When one kid's asked about what goes on with the bullying, he simply states "It breaks my heart" and that's something any audience member sitting through this will identify with.
Hirsch has pulled together a piece which is provocative as it deals with growing numbers of suicides caused by bullying but which tries to offer up some hope at the end. School systems and ineffective principals are damned by Lee's non-intrusive camera work, which captures the frustrations of the parents and the denial of those in power who could make a difference. Alex proves to be an engaging subject - despite enduring a daily hell of people telling him they "will end" him, his demeanour and attitude can be challenging and heartbreaking as he asks "Who else will be my friend" when his parents see the extent of what Lee's caught on camera and urge him to speak up.
Bully also deals with other kids whose lives are damned and the parents of a teen boy who felt he had no choice but to take his own life. By providing a document which has such disarming honesty, you can see what Lee Hirsch is trying to do - and is continuing to do after release - but you can't help but feel this is a film which needs to be seen more by the masses, freed from any distribution issues and given directly to schools to actually make a difference (no fault of the film-maker here, I hasten to add). Bully is an emotive yet matter of fact piece which is emotionally shattering and utterly horrifying as it follows its subjects.
It offers some hope but shows we're still too far away from ever really doing anything to actively end this - which is a crime, no matter how you view it.