There's no hiding from the media frenzy that Lee Hirsch's new documentary seems to have created. Single-handedly revitalizing the debate on the efficacy of the MPAA, Bully sounds much more controversial than it really is. In fact, the film's pretty standard. Not bad, not great. It's good-looking, standard documentary fare: you've got a handful of good guys, a couple bad guys (really just one in this case – a particularly boneheaded school administrator), and very little involvement on the part of the filmmakers. It's as simple as putting the camera in the right place and letting it roll.
Hirsch sure knows where to put the camera though. The imagery is exquisite, even during ordinary “talking head” segments, and Hirsch keeps the film moving at a frenetic pace, and, for better or worse, tries to give everyone a fair share of the spotlight. Some of the stories feel overwrought, and some are downright ridiculous; we're supposed to be rooting for the bullied kids, but when one brings a gun onto a bus and starts waving it around, it feels wrong for her to be let off the hook so easily.
There's an important distinction to make about Bully; it's more about exposing bullying than preventing it. I suppose some would say that exposure leads to prevention, but I think it's an assumptive leap and one I'm not ready to make. A quick push for the website before the credits roll that says “Get Involved!” is simply not enough. This is a documentary that's content to simply observe from afar, but it's an issue that needs boots on the ground.