fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

'Bully' moves you

There is a moment in the documentary "Bully" that is chilling and wrenchingly sad. A mother stands in her son's room — now repainted and turned into an office. Struggling for control, for distance, she points to a wide set of paneled closet doors and says, her eyes welling, her voice breaking, "That's where Tyler hanged himself." It's a stunning moment. Tragic beyond words. Tyler, her much-loved son, who will remain 17 forever, had been relentlessly bullied at school and finally reached a point where he surrendered.

"Bully" is now available on DVD. For parents of tween-teen kids, it should be watched, hopefully, as a family. And used as a catalyst.

Filmmaker Lee Hirsch focuses on five kids, some on the cusp of adolescence — such as Alex Libby and Ja'Meya Jackson. Plus 16-year-old Kelby Johnson. Of the five, two have committed suicide, and their families, still in the depths of grief, ask why their children — Tyler Long, 17, and Ty Smalley, 11 — weren't protected from the torment they had endured as they prepared to confront another day of cruelty from their peers.

Hirsch follows Alex, 12 years old, and we witness, on his bus ride to school, physical and verbal abuse that is shocking. He is ostracized, one seatmate telling him that he is going to "f-him up" and sodomize him with a broom handle. We see Alex punched and pushed and told to sit alone. Sadly, Alex asks his mom, as she questions him about what he endures, "If you say these kids are not my friends, then what friends do I have?"

When Alex's parents confront clueless school administrators, they collectively shrug, insisting that either there is no problem or, simply, that "buses are notoriously bad places for lots of kids." As are schools, it seems, for some 13 million kids who are bullied.

And there's Ja'Meya, a 14-year-old honors student who is so tormented and abused that she brings a gun on the school bus and suddenly finds herself in juvenile detention, charged with 44 felonies.

Kelby, 16, lives in the "Bible Belt" of Oklahoma, and discloses to family and peers that she is gay. The responses of other families, once friends of the Johnsons, as well as her classmates, manifest a heartbreaking and unrelenting homophobia, an attitude that is embedded in our culture, creating a milieu wherein the word "fag" is used as an epithet.

Like Alex and Ja'Meya, Kelby, a gifted athlete, is shunned, berated by students and even teachers, and finds scratched into her locker, "Faggots aren't welcome here." For Kelby, to leave for school each morning must require a well of courage and intrepidity that is unimaginable.

What is clear is that bullying is not a rite of passage. It is a gantlet devoid of compassion and empathy and is, at best, profoundly disturbing.

What Hirsch fails to do, however, in this affecting documentary is focus, even briefly, on the bullies. Causation begs to be examined. Why would any 14-year-old — male or female — single out the most defenseless and the most vulnerable and subject them to such degrading and abusive behavior? The answer is essential if there is to be some form of closure to this moving documentary.

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"

So it's March, and we're in the movie doldrums, waiting for even a hint of a welcoming breeze. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" isn't it. Surprisingly, Steve Carrell seems to have an endless supply of audience good will, and yet he so often disappoints, as he does in this recent release about a vain, cheesy, self-indulgent Las Vegas magician who has dropped into an abyss of ennui.

Wonderstone has been working the Vegas crowds for more than a decade, his partner, and boyhood friend, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), always at his side. They're recycling tricks that they've used for years, and Burt has stopped caring. He's preoccupied with his tan, his faux hair, and the next sweet thing willing to hire on as the act's eye candy and Burt's bed buddy.

But suddenly he and Anton are confronted with a new generation of street magicians, such as Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), who does far more physical and dangerous illusions, some bordering on the masochistic. Burt suddenly looks like yesterday's magician and Gray is tomorrow's must see act.

But none of this is remotely interesting or funny. Grating and formulaic? Indeed.

There are moments when the film begs the question: is this satire, a send-up of Vegas acts such as those of David Copperfield (who has a cameo appearance), David Blaine or Criss Angel? Answer: no. This could've been an interesting film if the writers had taken the essence of the script far more seriously, while utilizing the fine cast. Meanwhile, the plot is as limp as Burt's velour leisure suit.

— Chris Honoré