Bully: how children treat other children

Documentary and call-to-action, Bully exposes the lengths kids will go to be awful. I don’t know about you, but I’d forgotten.

I have got to stop seeing movies about kids being awful and other kids being sad. Or mad. Or dead.

I mean, whatever, it’s not all about me and how I keep weeping all over my Goobers. Lee Hirsch’s tear-jerking documentary, Bully, is meant to jar parents into taking a closer look at how their children are treated outside the home and, perhaps more effectively, how their children treat other children. We’re supposed to Goober-weep. It means the film is working.

Bully introduces us to a handful of kids, all of whom are easy targets for jerks at their school. And you’ve probably blocked it from your memory, but middle school is a dark pit where cretins of varying stages of maturity reveal the limits of human cruelty. High school is only marginally better. Kids like Alex, who was born at 26 weeks1 and has some unique features, and Kelby, who is her small Oklahoma town’s first openly gay student, take constant harassment on the chin. According to Hirsch, that’s the problem.

Kids don’t talk to their parents enough about the terrors they face going to school, and administrators don’t do enough about it. “Kids will be kids,” is heard a lot in the film as desperate moms and dads plead for somebody to do something. The ultimate danger isn’t the physical harm that other kids inflict on geeky little boys and girls (although that’s upsetting enough), it’s emotional trauma that cuts deep enough to convince some kids to take their own lives.

Is it the parents’ responsibility or the school’s? What’s at the heart of kids bullying each other? In Kelby’s case, she receives similar treatment from teachers, neighbors, and former friends. And her parents, because they support her, do too. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, the normally flippant and radiant Kelby admits that she’s unable to change the world like she thought. It’s just too hard.

But we can do something about it, can’t we? All of the parents in the film come from different places and different backgrounds. Their only common ground is that they have an unusual kid who they love fiercely and want to protect as best they can. After years of trying to make progress with the school administration, they now turn to us, asking us for…it’s not exactly clear. Awareness? Sure. Encouraging children to be open and communicative with parents and authority figures? That, too. Really hammering home the point to your kids that everyone deserves to have friends and to be heard? This one seems to be the kicker.

Bully struggled with getting its rated-R-for-profanity rating downgraded to PG-13 so that more kids could see the film and be moved to make a difference in their school. Although it does seem like editing out the profanity is an easy enough fix, it seems even easier to release the film on a less expensive format for mass consumption, such as, I don’t know, TV or the Internet. I guarantee more hard-up families have seen that double rainbow meme than the latest heartwrenching documentary feature.

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Why you should see this movie

You have feelings. (You can also find out more about what you can do on the website.)

Why you should stay home

You hate feelings.

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  1. For those who don’t know much about gestational periods, that’s incredibly early, and it’s amazing that he’s even alive. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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  1. Listen, I really dig the passion of this review, which apparently is fed by your experiences. But, uh, ” Middle school is a dark pit where cretins of varying stages of maturity reveal the limits of human cruelty” is more than a little hyperbolic and generalized. You start off an article like that and you might as well change your byline to The Morrissey Version of Fox News. Easy there, cowpoke. And, anyway, it couldn’t have been all that bad, could it? You must have had a few laughs.

    Still, you’ve made me want to watch. So that’s cool, though I’ve got to admit you’ve made me afraid that afterwards I’ll blow my face off while blaring a little Judas Priest.

  2. Cam on said:


    This is not a documentary about mopey goth kids who choose to be different getting picked on by jocks. These are little kids who are taking their lives. One was only 11 years old. There are no “laughs” in this movie.

    As for basing a review “fed by… experiences” I can safely say that — knowing the author of this review — she suffered no such bullying in her grammar school years. The film more than illustrates the imbalance of kids’ social skills for the viewer. I was never bullied in school either, but I would agree that middle school wasn’t exactly fun for anyone that I knew. If it was for you, then congrats.

    As a new parent, it was a rough movie. I don’t want my son on either side of those battles, and it’s a stark, stark documentation of how sometimes even loving your kid more than anything in the world is not enough to save them from it.

  3. Susan on said:


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