Unreal Movie Review: Bully

It’s tough to walk into a film knowing it’s going to break your heart, but that said, Bully is a must-see for anyone who has a kid, will have a kid, or currently is a kid. I’m not sure anyone is actually left out of that qualification.

The existence of bullying is not a new phenomenon, as the strong have been picking on the weak ever since the first caveman slapped his smaller neighbor and called him a fag.  It’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t seen or experienced bullying in their own time at school, and speaking as someone who was a foot shorter than everyone in class (even the girls) for about ten years of school (after skipping a grade), it’s somewhat of a personal issue.

But chances are none of us had it as bad as the poor souls from Bully. It’s hard to tell whether schoolyard bullying has truly escalated in severity over the years, or if because of the internet, we’re now seeing it in daylight for the first time.

The film opens on a sober note, as a tearful father recounts fond memories of his son who recently hung himself after incessant bullying. Soon, we’re transported around the country (well, around the Bible Belt at the very least) to meet a whole collection of kids who are undergoing the same sort of torment.

A ton of bullying takes place on buses apparently. Never rode one myself.

If the film has a hero, it’s Alex. He’s a thirteen year old kid born 14 weeks premature, and suffered a few developmental disorders that have earned him the taunting nickname “fishface” among his peers. He’s relentlessly bullied on the bus every day, and even when the cameras are in clear view of the other kids, we see him hit, stabbed, choked and beaten. It makes you wonder what happened before the film crew showed up.

Then there’s Kelby, a girl who came out as a lesbian in Oklahoma and is transgendered to the point where she looks like a rather handsome young man. Her Sunday School teaching parents had a change of heart about who the good Lord really loves after their own daughter turned out to be gay, but their friends did not. Now no one will even wave to them at the store, and classmates refuse to sit by Kelby at school. Even her teachers torment her for her sexuality, and the school refuses to even acknowledge there’s a problem.

There’s yet another family dealing with suicide, another with a child locked up after bringing a gun onto  her bus to end a year of harassment. Story after story of desperate kids and even more desperate parents who simply do not know how to deal with this problem.

There aren’t clear answers given here. Bully takes no stance on what exactly should be done, other than to say that in general, people should “say no to bullying.” Though the types of people who would attend an anti-bullying rally where that message is being taught aren’t usually those causing the problems.

At a bullying meeting where school officials didn’t even bother to show up.

The obvious place to lay blame would be the parents, but for the worst offenders, that’s often a dead end. Kids may bully because they themselves are bullied at home, or at best, parents will take a stance of “boys will be boys” and leave it at that. It’s a position the school often takes as well, as often in the film, administration officials will lament that they can’t police all kids all the time, and they can’t change a student’s mind about their classmates.

There are clear examples of what NOT to do. One assistant principal forces a handshake between a bully and his victim. The victim is reluctant to do so, and while the bully is free to go afterward, the victim gets a lecture about how he’s as bad as the bully for not wanting to shake his hand. “You’re the same as him!” the idiot teacher chides. He responds in tears “I don’t hurt people, I don’t threaten people, I’m not like him.” Well no shit, but it’s an obvious message that isn’t clear to many adults it seems.

The film will certainly unsettle parents or those who are planning on being parents. The hope of the film is that school age children will actually watch it so they can see just how their actions affect their victims. But if a kid needs a movie to tell him that beating a kid up and relentlessly teasing him is going to adversely affect him, there are clearly larger problems roosting that need to be addressed.

That said, awareness in this case is important. While many know bullying exists, many don’t understand the full extent of how ingrained it is in most schools. To see school administrators throw up their hands in defeat is infuriating, and you can see the need for harsher laws on the books when it comes to the well-being of impressionable young kids. When bullying is as bad as we’ve seen in this film, it’s clearly something that will stay with you for life. While I’ve gotten past being called short during my formative years, there are kids who have it much, much worse, and if something isn’t done, they could end up another statistic.

It’s not a fun viewing, but it’s a necessary one for anyone who wants to understand how harsh school life can truly be for ostracized kids. The lack of clear answers may be frustrating, but understanding the problem is the first step toward fixing it.

You don’t really give a “star rating” to a movie like this.

A happy ending for Alex.

Similar Posts


  1. one of the things that always bothered me was how in school it doesnt matter who starts a fight because youll both be in trouble. if someones hitting you and you hit back i dont see how you can say thats not self defense. the amount of idiots with worthless liberal arts degrees in bullshit majors like 18th century poetry. get some common sense. whats that old adage? THOSE WHO CANT, TEACH

  2. Is Kelby currently transitioning from female to male, or does she identify as a male? If not, I’d edit the part where you use “transgender.” Plus the word is an adjective (at best), not a noun or a verb. And I’m not being an asshole, I promise. It just seems like it might be being used incorrectly here, and it’s an area that deserves sensitivity.

    I’ve also not seen the film, so I don’t know Kelby’s thoughts on the matter.

  3. @Confused – when I was in third grade some kid pushed me to the grown, grabbed my head, and slammed it into the concrete…because he “thought” (I didn’t) that I said something about his “girlfriend” (because we know how serious 3rd grade relationships are).

    I totally got detention for this and I didn’t even fight back.

  4. I had a bully when i was in 6th grade. it sucked. but then i started taking tae kwon do classes, and did pushups. by the time 7th grade started, and he tried picking on me, i put him in a headlock, flipped him over on his back, and choked him out. the point being, if these bullied kids would put a little effort into being more alpha, and less into being wimps, then the problem would solve itself.

    instead, teachers, parents, and pretty much any adult nowadays is expected to step in and solve children’s problems for them. you might as well put a bandaid on a broken leg because that’s about all the good it does.

  5. @kasper so your response to bullying is to become a ninja? That’s awesome and stupid. Are we not an intelligent species? Can’t we figure out that the only solution to bullying is the death penalty? Or the dissolution of the classroom. Can’t we sort our kids into learning groups based on intelligence. The dumb brutes can learn in some dumpy factory,the nerds in some computer lab, and the rest of us in a school. Best way to motivate us to keep our grades up or fall in with the brutes.

  6. I got picked on by this short fat shit when I was in 4th grade. I had moved to a new town and didn’t have many friends. Fast forward 6 years later and I’m 6’2″ 230 playing football and dating cheerleaders. Fat shit was still a punk ass and I beat his ass during football practice. Feels good man. That being said I always felt bad for the little nerdy guys. They just did their own thing an would get made fun of. Fast forward 14 years and I’m a nerd reading unreality mag. I didn’t feel bad for the fucking booger eating weirdos though. They deserved to be ridiculed to the point of becoming normal.

  7. This is one of those movies that I’m not sure if I want to see or not. Part of me wants to because I can relate to what a lot of these kids are dealing with. But part of me doesn’t because the pain of a lot of it is still pretty fresh in my mind, despite the fact I’ve been out of school for nearly twelve years. Kids today just seem so much more cruel, and it makes me afraid for my children .

  8. @kasper

    You’re over simplifying the problem here.
    Not every child who is bullied is capable, or will have access to
    becoming a ninja warrior like yourself.

    Some children are have physical or mental disability which prevents them from doing so while also being the reason they receive bullying in the first place.

  9. @kasper

    Also your ninja warrior skills wouldn’t have helped you if some kid decided to stab you or shoot you in the face.
    What is your solution then? Take shooting lessons and buy a gun?

  10. I think just by reading most of these comments one can decipher that lack of intelligence and the notion that violence solves bullying extends past childhood. Our society is becoming one that breeds and rewards ignorance. It will only get worse.

  11. @anon: Ninjas deal with guns all the time. I mean, Look at Batman. If you’re a ninja and a bullet ends you. . .well, you were never really a ninja.

  12. Kids have always been and will always be cruel. It lies within the parents and schools abilities to handle the problem which never happens. Our school system is broken and has been for a long time. This is one reason why school shootings occur because the disturbed kid is neglected by adults and sought after by the bullies. It’s all in the parents hands. If your kid is an asshole ship his ass off to military school. If the parent is a piece of shit then this is where the guidance counselor comes in but they never fulfill their role. Out of the three high schools I went to they didn’t give a damn about the kids or their problems they are just pissed off about their lousy pay checks. This is America however where we give our athletes millions of dollars but to the people who are guiding our childrens futures we give them next to nothing.

    When I was a sophomore I got bullied by two kids in one day and ended up giving both of them a black eye in one go around ending with the assistant principal pulling us apart. Needless to say I got in trouble as well but was it really my fault for retaliating? When my dad came to pick me up the only thing he said about it was “well did you get the better end of it?” He was proud of me for standing up for myself. I am blessed to have parents that really cared about what happened to me as a kid but unfortunately not everyone is that lucky.

  13. I’ve been bullied, but luckily not physically. It can be different when you’re a girl… I was overweight so I mostly got name called. I was shy, and horrible at thinking on my feet – I could never think up comebacks until 20 minutes later. One time, I was on the bus, and one of my bullies was sitting behind me. She stuck gum in my hair. My hair was thick and full so I just took out my scissors, cut out the gum wad, and gave it back to her. HA! But yeah, it ruined my self-esteem. In fact, my ten year is coming up soon, and I’ve lost about 60 lbs since high school. I’m gonna show up and be like “what now, bitches?” Yeah, revenge is sweet.

  14. A lot of the problem with bullying, is that it seems like the victims are the ones forced to deal with it. Schools hold special classes telling victims how to be less victim-ish. Victims are made to feel that it is somehow their fault. I don’t care if you’re the weirdest kid in school if you just shit your pants and you wear a fish as a necktie, you have the right to not be harassed and bullied.

    The ones doing the bulling need to be held accountable. Not this, “Zero tolerance” crap they’re doing in school where some poor kid brings an asprin into school and we arrest them, I’m talking about real accountability. Not just the bully, but the witnesses that just stand around. And if it can be proven that a teacher witnessed bullying and did not put a stop to it? Suspension without pay, pending an investigation that may even cost his/her job if it’s happened too many times before.

    Parents too have to stop taking the attitude of, “Children will be children, as long as it’s MY child that does the beating and YOUR child that gets the pain.” Yes, kids will be kids, but adults are supposed to be adults and as adults, if you know this crap is going on, you stop it. Because trust me, the bit you heard about was nothing compared to what the kid did when there were no witnesses.

    And the biggest? Quit punishing the kids who are getting picked on. Stop with the “Let’s try to make you more normal, so you won’t be the victim” because it comes across like, “We know, deep down, that you deserve every punch, scratch, kick, mean remark. So, maybe if we teach you to at least pose as someone else, you’ll be left alone.” It’s a horrible message.

  15. watching school officials and teachers throw their arms in defeat IS infuriating, its to the point i’ve wanted to just lose my shit on teachers.

    not only this movie, but that video about the dad who wire tapped his autistic son for school, both are terrible truths. kids need to be taught better. but there are times where parents arent to blame, some kids just do it because they are bigger.

    i just hope this movie gets the attnetion it needs

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.