From Sundance Award-winning filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, comes a beautifully cinematic, character-driven documentary following five kids and families over the course of a school year. Offering insight into different facets of America’s bullying crisis, the stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter, who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate and often shocking glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals' offices, BULLY is a powerful and inspiring film that every educator, parent and teenager should see.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
One challenge in watching a gut-wrenching and distressing documentary like 'Bully' is in trying to contain one's anger and natural reaction to yell at the screen every time a school official makes excuses for a student's mistreatment of his peers.
One school principal thinks forcing the cruel kid to shake hands and apologize is good enough, while reprimanding the victim for feeling uncomfortable with the situation, completely, and frankly, rather stupidly, ignoring his tearful comments that the bully will only beat him up again later. This happens only minutes after the same principal admits to the camera she doesn't know the remedy for fixing the issue and wishes more kids would speak up. By that point, you're screaming advice at the screen of what she had just done wrong.
Other extraordinarily lame and frustrating excuses are of the sort many are quite familiar with: "kids will be kids," "it's normal to tease one another" and "they need to learn to work it out amongst themselves." A superintendent actually runs down this list of what essentially amounts to reasons not to intervene during a meeting with concerned parents after the suicide of Tyler Long.
It's a maddening experience to witness, and you can see the demoralizing anger in those parents towards the school official, who clearly did not want to be there. And this is precisely part of the problem: people, whose educational responsibility extends to the well-being of the kids, would much rather make excuses or prefer to ignore the real damage inflicted by the endless taunting of other kids. One corrections officer even says it outright that bullying is no defense for the victim to breakdown and suddenly turn violent against their aggressors. He was responding to a fourteen-year-old girl carrying a gun on the school bus she had to share with her bully, a boy that yelled horribly violent, sexual things at her.
Speaking of which, the same principal mentioned above somehow justifies moving the victim to a different bus route as the logical solution to the problem. Never mind punishing the bullies whatsoever for the physical and verbal abuse they inflict on others. The best resolution in her mind is to continue making the target of the constant bullying feel like they are the problem and must therefore go away.
The other challenge is in trying to hold back the tears as you listen to the heartbreaking stories from the children suffering daily abuse at the hands of their peers and from the parents of those kids who felt they only had one option for escaping their tormentors. The documentary, directed by Lee Hirsch, touches quite a bit on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, somewhat comparing how the parents of both boys dealt with their loss and discovery of how much each boy suffered in silence. It's astonishing to witness talking with school officials ultimately does nothing, so these parents form advocacy groups instead, in an effort to bring more attention to the problem.
The majority of the film's focus is on Alex Libby, a high school freshmen who has no friends and has sadly become accustomed to the physical abuse he receives on the school bus. He's the boy the above principal proposes to move to a different route rather than actually confront the problem kids. It's shocking to see how clueless she is, unaware of the psychological message she's sending to Alex and how fake her sympathies seem towards Alex's parents. It's no surprise then why kids don't tell anyone because every time they try, no one is actually listening. In a conversation with the vice principal, an awfully-timid Alex explains that simply talking to the bully is clearly ineffective. Bullies stop doing one thing but find other ways to continue the torment.
We also hear from honor student and basketball player Ja'Meya Jackson, who feared for her safety so much she felt compelled to conceal a gun in backpack and wield it one day to keep her bully at bay. For this act of self-defense, she received several felony charges and was immediately expelled from school. There's also Kelby Johnson, who was kicked off her basketball team and made too feel unwanted, even by school administrators and teachers, because of who she is. Ultimately, her only option was for her and her family to move away from their hometown and to a city that's more tolerant of her lifestyle.
And there are many more similar stories being shared in this remarkable documentary that never promises a solution. Lee Hirsch's film only brings attention to the issue, forcing viewers to grapple with the realities and effects of bullying. 'Bully' is a must-watch for all children and adults alike.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay and The Weinstein Company bring 'Bully' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. Inside a blue eco-lite keepcase, a Region A Locked, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 copy of the movie. There are also a couple pamphlets with the package for owners to read. At startup, the disc commences with a skippable trailer before switching to a main menu with full-motion clips and music.
The heartbreaking documentary debuts with a highly-impressive and exceptional 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1). Director Lee Hirsch does his own cinematography, and he's fairly creative with the lens, which looks stunning in this high-def presentation. He photographed mostly with a stylized, bokeh-style shallow focus, but fine object and textural details are razor-sharp and crisp. Lines along trees, leaves and grass are distinct while the interiors of people's homes are very well-defined. Primaries are richly-saturated and vibrant, and secondary hues come with a great deal of warmth with natural, lifelike facial complexions. Contrast is comfortably bright with brilliant whites, allowing for excellent visibility into the far distance. Black levels are true with terrific gradational details within the darkest portions of the image and adding plenty of depth.
Being a documentary with lots of touching personal stories, clarity in the dialogue and conversations is crucial. Thankfully, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers with aplomb and more. While listening intently to the families share their pain and memories, the original music of Michael Furjanic, Justin Rice and Christian Rudder terrifically widens the soundstage with exceptional channel separation and fidelity. It's quite subtle and mostly plays a supportive role to the subject matter, but the mid-range exhibits splendid distinction in the instrumentation with good, hearty bass, giving the score an appreciable weight and depth. A few discrete effects are employed for ambience, but the rears are generally reserved for the music to spread wider and keep viewers engaged, making this a surprisingly outstanding lossless mix.
- Special Version of Bully (HD, 47 min) — A shorter version of the documentary edited for younger audiences. It mostly removes some of harsher language and violence without losing much of the film's impact.
- Deleted Scenes (1080i/60) — Six sequences which didn't make the final cut but remain just as touching and worth watching.
- The Bully Project at Work (1080i/60, 7 min) — One middle school in California takes a special field trip to watch and discuss the film.
- Alex after Bully (SD, 4 min) — A brief interview with the documentary's star after the film's success.
- Alex's Character Sketch (1080i/60, 2 min) — An interview with Alex talking about his fears of going to school.
- Alex Raps (1080i/60, 2 min) — The movie's star sings in front of a crowd during an award shows with Sean Kingston.
- Kelby's Original Sketch (HD, 2 min) — A few brief clips edited together showing Kelby's friendly demeanor and thoughts.
- Meryl Streep on Bullying (1080i/60, 2 min) — The Academy Award winning actress speaks about her impressions of the documentary a The Paley Center for Media.
- Communities in Motion (1080i/60, 5 min) — Short promotional video on what a school is Sioux City, Iowa is doing to end bullying.
- Sioux City after Bully (HD, 7 min) — Parents and school officials react to the documentary and talk about the city's long-time involvement with programs that raise awareness to bullying.
- Good Morning America (SD, 8 min) — An episode from the morning show with Katie Couric interviewing the filmmaker, Alex Libby and David Long.
- Kevin Jennings, An Advocate's Perspective (1080i/60, 2 min) — Well-known advocate speaks on what parents and school officials can do in helping a victim of bullying.
- We Are Daniel Cui (HD, 3 min) — An inspiring story of one school's efforts to make their soccer team's goalie feel better about himself and his position on the field.
A thought-provoking and heart-wrenching documentary, 'Bully' examines the real psychological damage inflicted by the verbal and physical abuse of children. Although unable to offer an attainable solution to the problem, the film is a superb awareness call to a problem that requires immediate attention and action. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent picture quality and a great audio presentation. Supplements are very brief but worth watching, making the overall package highly recommended for both children and adults alike.
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