dir. Clark
Opens Fri July 27
Cinema 21

I recently spent several days hanging out with a bunch of 17-year-olds. Remarkably, none of them tried to kill me or sniff glue, and I heard no mention of planting bombs in the lockers of classmates--although, maybe during the few minutes I wasn't with them, they snuck away to make pipe bombs out of textbooks.

Okay, so I don't really think that. But, had I adopted the message BULLY was positing, I would. The movie, which is about upper-middle class white kids, is two solid hours of capitalizing on people's irrational fears of today's kids being good-for-nothing losers, bent on obliviously destroying themselves through drugs, violence, and sex.

The compliment to director Larry Clark's first movie, KIDS, BULLY is based on a true story about some really fucked up kids in the suburbs--specifically, some kids who plan a murder. It begins with Marty and Bobby; Bobby is a closeted queer who's secretly in love with Marty. This bothers Marty's girlfriend, Lisa, and it complicates things when she becomes pregnant.

Okay. Normal high school drama so far. But what do Lisa and Marty decide to do about it? Well, kill Bobby, of course.

Unlike the characters in KIDS, the movie doesn't blame city life for the characters' dysfunction. Lisa decides to kill Bobby because of her inability to deal with her own pregnancy. She lives alone with her mother, with whom she has an unproductive relationship. Likewise, Marty hates Bobby--because Bobby both physically and mentally abuses him--but Marty can't understand how to get out of this extremely unhealthy pattern. His confusion is also due largely to his relationship with his parents. So it's not really like these kids are being corrupted by television or McDonald's. It's more the fault of "skewed American family values today," as Hillary Clinton would say.

And screenwriter Zachary Long pretty much says as much. "BULLY is a script I felt I had to write," he's quoted as saying in the press notes that came with the movie. "Although very disturbing, it is a story that America needs to see. It's very scary what's happening with our youth. Columbine, Matthew Shepherd, Jonesboro, West Paduka, the list goes on. It's time we wake up to the way our kids are living This movie is not just for kids; most importantly, it's for parents."

Oh, geez. Come on now. I mean, sure, there's always tragedy, and it's always sad. And there are a lot of fucked up kids in America, I'm sure. But I think there're lots of things that are great for America's youth. Like, the fact that teenage girls who get pregnant are no longer sent away to boarding schools, where they used to be basically held prisoner until they had their baby. And what about the fact that among those 17-year-olds I hung out with, one of them is openly gay? Would that have happened 25 years ago? And don't we in America have better things to worry about then the problems of upper class white kids?

Of course, the reason this movie has me all aggro is that it's very effective at being disturbing. I'm sure there really are some fucked up kids out there, but if I really believed that all kids are doing the shit they are in this movie, I'd be really, really scared. Like KIDS, the film looks gritty, like a documentary, and just kind of follows a bunch of different kids around while they do pretty typical teenage things: work at video and sandwich stores, hang out on the beach, drive around town playing loud music, pop zits. But, it also carefully folds their quietly psychotic behavior. Lisa is so needy and confused that she finds it logical to casually take off her clothes and offer herself to whoever asks. The way to "get a boyfriend," as she puts it, is to sleep with someone, and once you've done that, you're in love. And of course, the violence, the blood, and the rawness of the murder scene-- shot in the same location in Florida where the event took place--is horrific. (Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away. You know from the beginning that he gets killed).

So, if you watch this movie, keep in mind that it's not going to be easy. It's extremely rare for me to walk out of movies, but if I hadn't been obligated to stay, I may very well have left in the middle. And don't get me wrong, I have nothing against disturbing movies. I just like them to have a moral that's based in some reality, rather than one that simply preys on the fears of upper-class American parents.