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Review: Bully

Ken Korman on the unexpectedly controversial documentary about school bullying

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  It's hard to imagine a better time than right now for a high-profile documentary about bullying in our schools. As detailed in Alex Woodward's "Bullied to Death" (Cover story, March 27), public outrage over bullying has surged in the wake of teen suicides — along with the partisan politics that currently hamper efforts to enact anti-bullying laws in Louisiana and beyond.

  So it was a terrible irony when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) slapped director Lee Hirsch's powerful Bully with an "R" rating as a result of the harsh language used by real-life bullies in the film, thereby limiting access for those who most need to see it and extending the damage caused by bullying. Celebrities from Justin Bieber to Meryl Streep joined a huge public campaign to overturn the rating. And in a rare bipartisan effort, more than 20 members of Congress signed a letter urging the MPAA to reconsider its decision. An appeal failed by one vote, but last week a compromise was reached. Hirsch removed a few inconsequential instances of strong language in the film, but left intact a single bullying scene at the heart of the ratings conflict and that he sees as central to the integrity of the film. The MPAA agreed to a PG-13 and waived the usual 90-day ban on showing a film after a ratings change.

  All of which seems a like a rare happy ending for a bullying-related story, especially those found in Bully. Shot over the course of a single school year in several locations, the film wisely avoids facts and figures in favor of putting five young faces on a complex problem. Two of those young people are no longer with us, and their families' unspeakable devastation and regret permeate the film. Hope can be found in the three other stories, along with some insight into how each of us can play a role in making things better. Bully is long and sometimes repetitive, but its crucial message comes through loud and clear. Be sure to send the kids. — KEN KORMAN

Bully

Directed by Lee Hirsch

Limited release

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