Other school officials come off toothless and clueless as well. Making kids shake hands doesn’t cause conflict to go away, nor does believing a bully is truly sorry simply because he says so. This is Middle School, for crying out loud, not Pre-K. Some parents come off equally cold and inept, too, though others’ valiant efforts are to be applauded in the face of such a daunting challenge.

Kids are bullying kids, and responsibility should be placed directly and accordingly. Yet while many adults are rallying to the cause (and we see some of that leadership here), far too many more—whether by over-intellectualized inactivity, moral timidity, or inexplicable apathy—are absolutely failing our kids, both in dealing with bullies as well as protecting and practically empowering their victims. Bully is, whether intentional or not, an indictment on adult society more than it is on cruel teenagers. It should make you second-guess who the title is actually referring to.

A ratings controversy has surrounded Bully’s pre-release, with the MPAA giving it an R-rating. This led distributor The Weinstein Company to wage a campaign—which it ultimately lost—to have it reduced to a PG-13. It’s a rare instance where both sides can be understood. The abusive language, profanity, themes and context of some of the abuse warrants an “R” by traditional standards, yet that rating would keep it from a teenage audience that needs to see it (though it should be stressed that it’s as vital for adults, perhaps even more so).

The MPAA’s final “R” decision has led The Weinstein Company to release it unrated (as opposed to editing it for content, which would effectively gut it of its truth). What’s perhaps the most telling aspect of this whole ratings debate is that while the MPAA was rightly concerned about offering parents a proper warning of what kind of movie their kids would be walking into on a given night, the movie itself is telling parents that this is the kind of school your kids may be walking into every single day.

Granted, this review isn’t so much a reaction to a movie as it is to a problem, but then that speaks to how well Hirsch’s documentary articulates that problem, both emotionally and morally. Bully shows us unequivocally that this crisis is not just real but endemic, and getting out of our control. For as horrifying as some bullies are, perhaps there is none more brutal than the societal aggregate of Institutionalized Passivity. We should be ashamed by how many lives it’s needlessly cost.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: None.
  • Language/Profanity: While not pervasive, profanity by teenagers is heard throughout the film at times, often in an abusive context. Not only are the F-word, S-word, A-word, and B-word used on multiple occasions, but so are crude and degrading genital epithets used to demean and belittle, as are offensive sexual orientation terms.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: No sexual activity or nudity. One story follows a bullied teenage lesbian. She is seen with her girlfriend, in one moment, holding each other.
  • Violence/Other: Some violence is caught on-camera (hitting, punching, pushing around, stabbing with pencils). Much more violence and abuse is talked about and referenced. Some specific violent threats—involving graphic descriptions by what one teenager threatens to do to another—are picked up by the film crew.