Larry Clark's Bully calls the bluff of movies that pretend to be about murder but are really about entertainment. His film has all the sadness and shabbiness, all the mess and cruelty and thoughtless stupidity of the real thing.
The important thing is that Clark has found a new way to be creepy, which isn't easy. In the process he has created something irresistibly watchable, the kind of original piece that might mean less but reveal more than its creator intended.
Bully is one of my favorite movies. The style of the movie is stark realism, and I can attest to the realistic nature of the characters because I grew up around similar people in the South. The film is extremely well-executed and extremely disturbing. The plot is simultaneously mundane and Shakespearean. The story is very specific, yet universal because it could happen anywhere, anytime. The actors are very convincing in their portrayals of these unfortunate young people who have little to no positive influences in their lives. Probably the best thing about the movie is the ending, which is one of the most shocking and devastating that I have ever seen.
It's instructive to compare Bully with Jean-Pierre Ameris's "Bad Company," which tackles similar themes and manages to be explicit without stooping to cheap salaciousness. It's a genuinely disturbing film. Bully, in contrast, is merely disgusting.
I was very wary when I saw Larry Clark's name on this movie. Clark has a well-earned reputation for being borderline-exploitative with young actors, and this was no exception. There's tons of drugs, nudity, and violence, all things that are relatively par for the course with Clark.
For the first half of the film, I found everything to be fairly unrealistic. The way the characters talked and the fact that they told nearly EVERYONE they knew about what they were going to do. In the second half, I found it completely believable that the characters acted and reacted the way they did to the situation. These chatty-kathys couldn't keep their secret for more than a few days, and everything fell apart exactly as you'd expect. After Bully wound to a close, I came to find out that this film is a true story. The major events played out on screen more or less as they did in real life, and the characters' names were not altered for the movie.
The movie's strengths lie in the unflinching portrayal of its central event and the sense of inevitable doom afterward. Clark really creates a sense of "Oh, **** This really can't be undone and is going to end badly." That the film stayed as close as it did to the source material is admirable when so many other films tend to mess around with the facts for Hollywood.
Bully's weaknesses manifest themselves in the dialogue. Some of the dialogue is just really unbelievable and clunky, even for late teenagers. Perhaps the characters say what they're going to do over and over because they're trying to talk themselves into it, or maybe they do it because the filmmakers wanted everyone to know that this act was premeditated. If it's the former, it's clever but not strongly executed; if it's the latter, it's just hamfisted.
Furthermore, the character of Lisa Connelly (played by Rachel Miner) makes some jarring turns. We see her go from what seems like a relatively sweet girl to a complete psychopath then back to a sweet girl without any warning at all. Maybe the girl was like this in real life, but you get no clues early on the film that she's really this disturbed. Then, all of a sudden, POW, she's completely, heartlessly crazy.
Another point of contention is the music. This event occurred in the summer of 1993, yet all of the music I recognized came out afterward, sometimes by years. The characters were watching Eminem videos that wouldn't come out for another 8 years. In a particularly bizarre turn, the characters are listening to Cypress Hill's album "Black Sunday" which came out a week AFTER the main event of the film. It's just sloppy if you're going to make a film based off of real events using real people's names but you mess up on getting the little details right.
Bully is a good film, slightly above average, but not a great film. It's worth watching once, but I feel no need to watch it again.
Bully is intriguing, and the script is pretty razor sharp. The acting is surprisingly good, and the story moves smoothly. Where the movie fails is its plot holes and overused sex scenes. You'd be hard pressed to find a scene in this movie where someone isn't naked.
Based on a true story, Bully is crude film, but also disconcerting and misdirected. It doesn't pretend to indulge you with the cruelty of its story so that you'll find it entertaining, but it also doesn't do much to support the notion that it's not something that seems more interested in being exploitative than anything else.
Bully feels realistic as far as it allows itself to be. The cast is what manages to keep things afloat, yet they're not able to make amends for the whole thing.
After all Bully has many flaws that keep it from becoming the film I had heard it was for certain people, but I did like that it doesn't soften the impact of what it exposes as an accusation and a critique of society on both fronts, those who don't help young people, and the young people dragged into situations from which they don't even try to escape until it's already too late.
Really wanted this to be better.