Teenhood is not for sissies. Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen's documentary Bully opens with the dead-eyed gaze of a man, a father, talking about the suicide of his son, a victim of bullying. As if ripped from the proverbial front pages, the movie resonates with public awareness of this mean-spirited practice akin to the Rutgers webcam privacy violation that resulted in one young man's suicide and another's conviction for a crime.
Bully comes with its own baggage: the M.P.A.A. "R" rating for six instances of the "f" word that will result in a censoring of the film from the population that most needs to see it, school-agers. No matter that the offense as heard in some footage aboard a school bus is the voice of a nasty, potty-mouthed boy deploying a threat to a girl that he will "f" her in the most vicious, unconscionable way. Did the board actually watch the movie? This rating is a lame, knee-jerk response. And it is not just for kids. Grownups, parents and school officials need extra doses of this movie, which features one of the most obtuse vice principals ever witnessed, claiming the school bus riders are "angels."
Harvey Weinstein pointed out an irony: the country's top movie, the fantasy world survival story, Hunger Games, has a PG-13 rating while showing teens killing teens. In any case, as of this writing, Harvey Weinstein has decided to release the film with no rating.
Introducing the special Paley Center screening of the documentary last week -- sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, Bing, and Gucci, and with gift wrapped Georgetown Cupcakes -- Meryl Streep said she was not aware that her daughter, actress Mamie Gummer, had stood up to a bully targeting a middle school classmate. Parents especially should be commended for teaching values of kindness and compassion to their children, a point made dramatically in Bully.
The quiet triumphs of bullying survivors are also observed -- and applauded. The movie resonated for Nyack mayor Jen White who had to move her son to another school. Mariel Hemingway, Bob Balaban, Georgina Chapman, Tom Brokaw, and Katie Couric were among the parents attending this event along with the film's stars: a taunted young man, Alex Libby, and an openly gay teen, Kelby Johnson, along with their courageous parents who had to take matters in their own hands, relocating families and learning to empower themselves and their children. Lanky Alex Libby especially hates being thought a nerd. In the film, he offers a funny, healthy aside on noting the variety of girls despite his troubles, and is now self-possessed enough to give an admiring reporter a big hug.
The ethical and moral issues of Bully are part of our zeitgeist. When asked how she was doing, Spiderman director Julie Taymor said, "Hey, I'm in a lawsuit. It's a lot like bullying."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.