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Lions Gate Films
Official Site
Director: Larry Clark
Producer: Jordan Gertner, Chris Handley, David McKenna
Written by: David McKenna, Roger Pullis, Jim Schutze (book)
Cast: Brad Renfro, Rachel Minor, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips, Michael Pit, Kelly Garner, Daniel Franzese, Leo Fitzpatrick

Rating: out of 5

There is a great line in the film SEARCH AND DESTROY where Dennis Hopper—a best selling author and television personality—proclaims “just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting!” Take this, expand it a little, and that is the advice I have for Larry Clark, director of BULLY—ust because something happens in real life doesn’t make a gritty, true-to-life depiction of it interesting or even worthwhile.

BULLY is a pseudo-documentary revolving around the lives of aimless teens lost in an empty world of sex, drugs, and violence. And just as with KIDS (Clark’s 1995 film that spurred so much controversy), BULLY only wishes its representation of these teens to be a shocking, visceral portrait of “reality,” a reality that rightfully may exist, but whose existence doesn’t make it into a worthwhile film. It is always the interrogation, caustic features, and affect of this or any reality that makes a film about it worthwhile and valuable. In place of these qualities, that would take the film to a more thought-provoking and less visceral level, Clark gives the standard laundry list of possible causes and punishes the characters for their actions.

BULLY is based on Jim Schutze’s book of the same name which proclaims to tell “a true story of high school revenge” (the book’s subtitle). However, there are some friends and family who would disagree with the “true” part (see http://www.freelisaconnelly.com). Overlooking the discrepancies, the film tells the gruesome story of seven disaffected teenagers who take revenge on an oppressive friend, Bobby (Stahl). He is overbearing, abusive and sexually repressed, the “bully” of the title. Marty (Renfro), Bobby’s best friend is a not-so-innocent yet easily persuaded boy growing up in a seemingly tranquil Florida suburb. After Marty meets Lisa (Minor) and her wild friends, he slowly stops taking the abuse and they all devise a plan to kill Bobby in the hopes that their lives will be bettered.

Though the tale may seem simple enough, it is continually complicated by the lack of content that really pertains to the story. Clark favors extremely graphic sex scenes rather than story progression or character development. The entire first half of the film is spent on trite and tired conventions such as scenes of teen sex juxtaposed with shots of a beautiful suburban landscape. While the style does have a gripping real “feel” to it, it only exists to shock, using the same techniques he tried six years before in KIDS. Only the murder scene benefits from this overuse of handheld cameras and canted shots. But even then the visceral unease is lessened because we are acclimated to such high a degree of unadulterated sex and violence.

While overall the film wants to be morally didactic, it all too quickly becomes obvious that Clark’s style of representation contradicts his proposition. The characters, who I assume Clark finds morally reprehensible, are simply being exploited in order to produce an extreme response from viewers and cause a wave of protest. All the women in this film are sexually loose and Lisa looks so young when she is naked as to seem prepubescent. Not to mention the fact that it is Lisa’s idea to murder Bobby because she has delusions of a contented life with Marty, but only in a world without Bobby. Even the family is held responsible for these teens’ actions. And, ironically, Clark seems in certain scenes (most specifically those involving violent video games) to suggest that violence in the media has a detrimental effect on impressionable minds. But worst of all, this film is little more than two hours of an unrestrained depiction of the lives (true or not) of truly fucked up children that never provides any reasonable explanation as to why or investigates the rationale behind such a heinous crime.

To Clark’s credit the story seems better served set in the suburbs than in the inner city of KIDS. But while this may give the film the Truman Capote effect Clark is going for, even amoral behavior in the suburbs doesn’t seem shocking any more (think AMERICAN BEAUTY), and can only serve to add to the problems teens face.

—Eric Vanstrom

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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