Lee Hirsch’s new movie, The Bully Project, tells the stories of various adolescents who suffer endless torture from their peers. It will touch you deeply and make you reach for an extra package of tissue paper, but certainly not in a creative or cutting-edge kind of way; the story is portrayed in the most conventional manner possible. The plot structure is taken from the templates available in Film 101, the music is either too tear-jerking or too heartwearming and Hirsch avoids bringing the audience the diversity of urban perspectives on bullying, opting to stay in the safety of the suburbs.
It is indeed difficult to criticize a documentary that covers such a heartwrenching tropic without seeming, well, cold-hearted. Nobody wants to read a totally bard movie review about a subject as sensitive as bullying. But it is also important to remember that tackling sensitive subject matter is not a free ticket to the land of endless praise. Luckily for The Bully Project however, its content makes up for its formal weaknesses.
Hirsch is able to both capture and convey feelings of lonliness, devastation, depression and anxiety with relative precision. The daily torment that bullied kids endure at the hands of their merciless peers is shown in a raw and real way; the film engenders empathy and forces us to ask tough questions: how should we deal with bullying? What causes bullying? Can the bullied be healed? In many ways, the important of the message outweighs the importance of the messenger; in this regard, plot conventionality fades into the background as we grapple with the cold hard reality of the thematic elements: bullying, revenge etc.
The Bully Project is definitely a movie worth seeing, but a word of warning: if you have been feeling particularly skeptical about the general goodness of mankind lately, skip this one. Your feelings of distrust vis-a-vis humaity will only go from bad to worse.