2012, PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Lee Hirsch.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 13, 2012

Title notwithstanding, Bully is a documentary with a limited purview. It isn't trying to examine the psychology of the bully. It isn't relaying reams of statistics or providing a big-picture survey. It doesn't have any avoidance strategies to share with those being tormented. It wants only to give voice to a handful who have been bullied – to put a face on the kid who is mercilessly kicked around (or just plain kicked) by his or her peers – and in that precise ambition, Bully is devastatingly effective.

Filmed in pockets of Middle America – Iowa, Oklahoma, Georgia – during the 2009-10 school year, Bully follows three children struggling at school: Alex, a sweet, gawky middle-schooler dubbed "Fish Face" by his classmates; Kelby, a 16-year-old harassed by peers and teachers alike for having come out as a lesbian; and Ja'Meya, a slip of a girl so brutalized by the school-bus commute that one day she brandished a loaded gun and landed in juvenile detention. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch (Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony), working with equipment and crew unobtrusive enough to blend into the landscape, captures stinging moments on film that illustrate the ineffectualness of the adult authority figures tasked with protecting the bullied. The teachers and administrators don't seem to be making a dent in bullies' behavior, while the parents profiled are sympathetic but stumped for a solution. To wit: Alex's mom tries to explain to her son that the children flicking pencils at his head and calling him names aren't his friends. "If they aren't my friends," Alex asks, "who is?"

Your heart hurts for these kids, and the blood boils, too, at irrefutable evidence that these children are not safe in their schools. Bully is never easy to watch, but it becomes flat-out brutalizing when it turns the camera on two sets of shell-shocked parents trying to make sense of their children's bullying-related suicides. Hirsch has stated he means for his film to serve as a teaching tool in schools, and its depiction alone of the parents' bottomless grief is a gutting instruction.

More Bully
Alicia Bognanno, Bully!
Alicia Bognanno, Bully!
Engineering your own major label debut is no picnic

Libby Webster, Feb. 3, 2016

ACL Live Shot: Bully
ACL Live Shot: Bully
Imagine TV’s Nashville leading with a garage-punk band

Tim Stegall, Oct. 12, 2014

More Bully
Sunday SOS Picks
Sunday SOS Picks
A final three picks for the SOS Sabbath

Tim Stegall, Nov. 4, 2016

More Lee Hirsch Films
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony
(This Chronicle review is reprinted from an earlier screening of the film at the Austin Film Festival 2002.) The history of apartheid in South Africa ...

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 14, 2003

More by Kimberley Jones
Cranky loner (and beloved character actor) faces mortality

Oct. 13, 2017

Future Imperfect: Our Favorite Dystopian Films
Our Favorite Dystopian Films
VOTE: Deadly roller derby, sad clones, and a Road Warrior duke it out

Sept. 28, 2017


Bully, Lee Hirsch

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)