In “Bully,” Brad Renfro (“Apt Pupil”) plays Marty Puccio, a troubled teen convinced by his girlfriend to kill his childhood bully, Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl). Instead of exploring Marty’s background and the pain he has suffered in his life thanks to Bobby, screenwriters Zachary Long and Roger Pullis choose to have the character’s utter the words, “I want you to suck my dick. I want you to lick my balls” because THAT clues viewers into what would make this teen murder someone (note the sarcasm). The film doesn’t get much better from there. The opening line sets the tone for what viewers are about to witness in the next hour. With the exception of a couple cheap punches by Bobby, the relationship between Marty and his bully take’s a backseat to the sex and nudity on-screen. While viewers do need to meet Marty’s girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) and her best friend Ali (Bijou Phillips) since they play key parts in the film later on, we don’t need to see them constantly screwing Marty and various other characters to get the point of the story.
Despite the fact that Clark uses almost a whole hour to introduce his main characters, hurried cuts within the film result in none of the relationships coming across as believable– especially the main ones. Marty and Lisa are about as believable as a couple in love as Hilary and Bill Clinton. Not only is the beginning of their relationship portrayed literally as ‘they meet, they screw, it’s love!,’ but their feelings towards one another are inconsistent throughout the film. For while in one scene we see Marty attempt to cheat on Lisa, in the next one we see him so in love that he’s willing to kill for her.
While the wishy-washy chemistry between these two is important to the overall effect of the film, it’s the weak relationship between Bobby and Marty that is its true downfall. Nowhere during the movie do viewers get a feel for how far their friendship goes back or how violent Bobby has been to Marty in the past other than Marty telling Lisa how their relationship has been the way it is now. Even in the few scenes we see Bobby strike Marty, he is always quick to apologize and thus comes across more as someone who needs help rather than someone who deserves to die. If anything, viewers will most likely feel more for Bobby more than Marty, and although Marty isn’t exactly your stereotypical Hollywood hero, we still should feel more for him than the bully.
“Bully,” based on the novel by Jim Schutze, takes a serious, real life story, and makes it the background to a film that simply shows Clark’s obsession to parade around numerous teenaged characters so absorbed into the world of sex that they seem to be from a different planet. Sure there are people in America like them that society ignores thanks to teeny-bopper films that simply showcase virginal Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachæl Leigh Cook look-a-likes, but Clark objectifies these characters so much that they lose any sense of seeming real to middle America’s eyes.
The only performances and friendships that are portrayed even remotely realistic in “Bully” come from the supporting cast introduced near the end of the film. “Dawson’s Creek” alumnus Michæl Pitt and Kelli Garner are the only breaths of fresh in air in the film’s first hour, and sadly they come in very close to the 60-minute-mark. Their presence is what keeps the remainder of the film slightly engaging– that and the fact that over an hour into the film the story suddenly decides to have character development.
What is even more shocking than “Bully” finally paying attention to the true story it’s based of off though is a surprisingly good performance by “KIDS” star Leo Fitzpatrick, who plays the hitman hired to help Marty and Lisa kill Bobby. Fitzpatrick definitely has grown up and matured as an actor since his performance as Telly, and he gets to steal the film this time around by portraying the only character with some intelligence. It’s a shame that his role is so small but at the same time a relief– for if he was in the film any longer he may have fallen victim to a script as lost in direction and character as “KIDS” once again.
As an avid movie watcher, one hopes to see directors mature from project to project. I know that was the feeling I had when walking into Larry Clark’s newest film, “Bully.” I wanted to see Clark move beyond “KIDS,” the 1995 film he directed, and make a movie that wasn’t just some sorry excuse to show barely legal T and A every chance given. Unfortunately, not even a minute into “Bully,” I knew that this wasn’t going to be that film.
“Bully” could have been an eye-opening exploration of the boundaries of friendship as well as the tolerance a teen can have towards his high school bullies. Instead it is simply a borderline porno flick that only becomes a real movie in its third act. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. Those involved in the real life story this film is based on should be disgusted– for both sides were truly cheated out of the respect they deserved.