Adults don’t get it. Kids are mean. And parents who do get it are powerless in their roles as protectors. That seems to be the central message in Lee Hirsch’s documentary “Bully.”
Following the stories of five families, “Bully” is an 94-minute documentary about the persistent problem of bullying. Twelve-year-old Alex Libby’s “friends” sit on him and strangle him and poke him with pencils every day on bus rides to and back from school. Eleven-year-old Ty Smalley and 17-year-old Tyler Long committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore. Fourteen-year-old Ja’Meya Jackson brought a hand gun on a bus to ward off the bullies — which leads to her charges of felony. And 16-year-old Kelby Johnson was picked on because she was a lesbian.
While balancing the multiple narratives helps the documentary’s pacing, it’s hard to keep track of all the stories — and sometimes the film loses focus as it bounces between one story to the next. Names and stories are weaved into one collective message: bullying sucks. But while Hirsch argues that bullying is a hopeless epidemic, the many case studies are overwhelming to watch.
With the recent shootings and suicides, “Bully” might explain the Adam Lanza’s or the Dylan Klebold’s. The stories are immensely raw and personal — more than making up for some of the fuzzy focus, shaky shots and convoluted narratives. You can’t watch this film without your heart clenching in painful knots as you empathize with the kids and parents. Your chest boils with anger at the school administration’s apathy. And while the sentiments of “adults don’t get it” and “kids are mean” are universally-known — it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
“Bully” was filmed, directed, written and produced by Lee Hirsch. It was co-produced and co-written with Cynthia Lowen.