Invariably I opt to check out documentary features at film festivals . The reason is simple. Although some of the most creative work comes from independent filmmakers, festival fare is always a mixed bag--a few gems scattered among a lot of really mediocre work. Life is far too short to waste on bad films, so I hedge my "risk" by prioritizing documentaries. Even if the film lacks entertainment value or suffers from lackluster artistry, I figure that I should at least LEARN something from it.
And that is my main issue with Bully. I just wasted 90 minutes of my life on a shallow project. I've seen more substantial content on this topic unveiled via CNN newsstories.
I should have taken the cue offered by the film's promotional poster--yellow background with a simple black lettered "BULLY" masked by a red stamp-out logo. Lee Hirsch's exploration of this "national epidemic" provides as much depth as Nancy Reagan's "Just say NO to drugs" campaign of the 1980s.
Had I checked the online official site for the film, more evidence indicates that the project's main emphasis is to inspire people to take action against bullying. While the standard promotional material is present, most of the navigational menus direct users towards action taking paths. Not that there's anything wrong with this; no one should bleed for bullies--emotionally or physically.
Despite the importance of the subject matter, this is a film that should have had a short life...at best, seen in a few small film festivals and struggled to get any theatrical screenings before being shelved in the far corners of Netflix's vast DVD rental inventory.
But with Harvey Weinstein picking up its distribution, Bully has become the national poster child for the issue--making a few children in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Georgia the symbolic faces of bully victims. And even more horrible, an inept teacher (who forces two kids to shake hands after a habitual bullying episode to "solve" the problem) and a completely clueless assistant principal represent a national school system.
Weinstein is no dummy. He struck Oscar gold in 1999 with an amazing upset Shakespeare in Love vistory over Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan that firmly established his promotional campaign prowess. He's been bullying Academy members ever since into voting for many of his pet projects over more worthy contenders, but this time he has used other tactics to maneuver more butts into theater seats to see Hirsch's superficial documentary.
This time the MPAA provided the fodder by planting the R rating on Bully for its language. Many have LONG recognized the silliness of the MPAA rating system, but Weinstein recognized the opportunity. He pounced on the "fact" that the R rating would prevent teens and pre-teens from seeing his movie, and made THIS the issue.. by taking a "righteous" stand and releasing the movie without a rating.
It's more a case of economics. There's so little actual content in the film that it's not going to teach much of anything. An insipid documentary instantly gained national notoriety, landed Weinstein tremendous press coverage, and allowed him to make the rounds of numerous news and talk shows to pimp his Bully project. Weinstein knows the territory--generating free publicity for such a film spells monetary success. And no one loves bullies, so most critics will ride the coattails of the cause and at least join in with a qualified "thumbs up."
It worked on me. I paid for a ticket.
I suggest that you wait for its eventual DVD release and just rent the film if you really must. It's much ado about nothing. So you'll only waste your time and not so much of your money.