By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The biggest bully in the much-talked-about documentary, “Bully,” isn’t some vicious kid — though we see evidence of their cruelty in the faces of those they’ve attacked.
Rather, it’s an adult. An assistant principal, actually, named Kim. One of those bluff, pseudo-cheery types —her students are her “golden cherubs” — she gives you the creeps early on.
But the deal is sealed when we witness her meeting with 11-year-old Alex’s parents, who’ve just seen terrible footage of his typical bus ride to school. Assuring them not to worry, she explains she’s ridden that route and the kids are “golden good.”
She’ll put it right, however, because the parents are worried (the footage, by the way, is considered so nasty, the filmmakers don’t let us see it).
Anyway, she’s going to take care of it. As they are ushered out with, um, unseemly haste, his Mom semi-protests “That’s what she said last fall….”
I went to “Bully” with bad attitude. Harvey Wenstein had already bullied the movie onto my radar with a pitched fit about the R rating (profanity). Kids need to see this, he thundered — with enough clout to land “Bully” on news shows like “60 Minutes.”
I’m not so sure. To begin with, I don’t think they’ll be all that excited to see the victims they no doubt encounter every day. On the bus. The playground. The halls. the locker room.
Or maybe they’re the victims themselves. No one is going to own up to being a bully. Not on screen or in the audience. They know this scenario. It’s the parents who need to be reminded. And, even more, teachers and school administrators.
The film follows five kids. One is the aforementioned Alex, a skinny, knob-knee’d boy, with glasses (natch) and lips that suggest either Mick Jagger or a grouper or both. He’s the one whose parents get bullied by that assistant principal.
Others include an almost serene lesbian with a poetic streak, and a gangly black girl who’s finally forced over the edge. Fed up with the daily abuse on the school bus, she takes her mother’s gun and waves it at her tormentors. She’s subdued in about 12 seconds and immediately sent to Juvie where she faces 45 felony counts.
I forget. How long did George Zimmerman wander around after he pulled a gun?
The last two kids share a name (Tyler and Ty) and a sad fate. Both have committed suicide before the movie begins. The ease with which both sets of parents let the camera intrude on their grief is both heart-breaking and discomfiting. You want the film crew to back off. To give them some peace or dignity or privacy.
At these times, “Bully” seems a bit of a bully itself. Raw footage trumps raw feelings.
Yet “Bully” is compelling, if only for the simple truths it conveys. Truths that don’t really disappear when homeroom or recess become reunion fodder.
As the Alex says,when his parents ask him about a certain boy they see on the tape, “Yeah, he used to be my friend. Then he started bullying me.”