Sunday, July 5, 2015

Movie Review: All American Bully (2015)

I suppose in this day and age, I should consider myself lucky that I was never the victim of bullying when I was in school. I got along with everybody and was friends with people on both ends of the social spectrum, so to speak. I never even really witnessed any kind of bullying that I can remember, though I have no doubt that it occurred. This has become a very serious issue of late, and this film, All American Bully, takes a very respectful and smart approach to the issue.

Devon, Garrett, and Becky are three close high school friends who enjoy their own little world of video games and comic books. One day Devon is attacked by a bully, and when coaxed by Becky, reluctantly decides to fight back. But their plan for blackmail goes downhill immediately, and finally culminates in a series of violent events where it's hard to tell who is the real victim.

All American Bully was presented to me as a film with a rare appearance by Adrienne King, the famous final girl from Friday the 13th. She plays the high school principal with some personal issues that prevent her from being totally sympathetic to our main characters, and she does a fine job with the role. However, it is a small role that isn't fully fleshed out, so while it's nice to see her in this movie and supporting an indie like this, she's not really the biggest selling point of the film. The story ends up shining a lot more than I expected it to, and went to far more serious places than I saw it going.

I would say that the most important component to a story like this is the characters. All American Bully checks this box on both sides of the issue: the victim and the bully. The victim, Devon, is a kid that I probably would have hung out with in high school. He has close friends but is still very shy and insecure, which partly stems from the non-support that he gets from his father. Devon's father thinks he is helping Devon by suggesting he be a little more "normal" and go out for sports. He knows that being into video games and comic books will bring his son ridicule, and I truly believe that he was just trying to protect his feelings, but that kind of advice never helps. At all.

Another person who tries to be helpful but really is not at all when you think about it is that one sympathetic teacher, Mr. Taylor. He is nice and encouraging to Devon about his artwork. But I still have a problem with his character. He keeps telling Devon to stand up and fight back, maybe not physically, but be smart about it and don't let them get to you. Sounds like sage advice. But my problem with this whole type of situation is the chastising of the victim and not so much the bully or bullies. Sure, he yells at the class when they laugh at Devon and punishes them with a pop quiz. Seriously, fuck that. Instead of teaching victims to stand up for themselves, why not teach bullies NOT TO BULLY? There are also some bad vibes between Taylor and the principal, too, and I was a bit disappointed that this wasn't explored further than it could have been.

Devon and those closest to him, especially Becky, are innocent victims in more ways than one when it comes to the bully of the movie, John. I love what the filmmakers did with this character. John is not your typical one-dimensional high school jock who bullies the nerd just because he can. There is a deep, dark story behind John's tough demeanor, and he and Devon were actually friends when they were younger. Becky uses something from this old friendship to get back at John for beating up Devon, even though Devon is incredibly reluctant to blackmail him. This was another thing that I liked, where even the victim of the bullying had some reservations about why the bully was taking out his anger on somebody else. And though John does some completely reprehensible things in the movie, there is still that side of you that understands that he is a victim, too.

Speaking of completely reprehensible acts, we do need to talk about something there. To spoil everything that I just alluded to in the previous paragraph, John was sexually abused by his mother. He admits that (it's a secret that he's never shared - not the thing that Becky and Devon try to use to blackmail him), and then is goaded into raping Becky to prove that he is not a "momma's boy." The rape scene is tough and brutal and in-your-face real, especially because of the way it was shot. It's hard to watch, and goes on way longer than some people might be able to handle, but it is that penultimate moment where everything becomes very real and very serious. It makes you realize that none of the stuff that happens in this movie, or any movie like it, should be taken lightly because this is what can (and does) happen.

All American Bully is a movie with a good story, and well-developed characters with their well-developed backstories that actually has something interesting and poignant to say about the topic of bullying.

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