Bully

on July 13, 2001 by Tim Cogshell
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Based on real events detailed in author Jim Schutze's award winning book of the same name, director Larry Clark's titular film adaptation of this pitiable story of horrifyingly wasted youth is vintage Clark. From his earliest work as a photographer documenting the speed freaks of his native Tulsa to his debut film "Kids," which reflected an equally shocking, though fictional, slice of disaffected American youth, Clark has never failed to relentlessly pursue his vision of the authentic. "Bully," though filtered through Clark's particular and somewhat fatalistic perspective of American youth, is authentic.

Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl, "The Thin Red Line") was a good deal more than just the neighborhood bully. He had been sexually and physically abusing nearly everyone with whom he came into contact for years, particularly his "best friend," Marty Puccio ("Apt Pupil's" Brad Renfro), who seemed incapable of freeing himself from Bobby's influence--though in many ways it was Marty who held sway over Bobby, who plainly had homoerotic feelings for the boy he often referred to as his "best friend." Lisa Connelly ("Joe The King's" Rachel Miner, in a performance that's brilliant to the point of recklessness) is an ethereal young girl who can't stand the way Bobby treats Marty, with whom she has quickly fallen in love. After weeks of sex, drugs and continued abuse at the hands of Bobby--including the occasional rape--they decide the only solution to their problem is to kill Bobby Kent. They go to Ali Willis (Bijou Phillips of "Black & White," who also pushes the envelope and gives an amazing performance), a friend of Lisa's who agrees to help them with their plan. She involves her stoner boyfriend, Donny Semenec (Michael Pitt, "Finding Forrester"), and solicits the help of a would-be hitman (Leo Fitzpatrick who starred in Clark's disturbing debut film "Kids.") Lisa also brings her friend, Heather (Kelli Garner), fresh out of rehab, along for the ride. Lastly, Lisa's hapless cousin, Derek Dzvirko (Daniel Franzese), is swept along as an accomplice. In a blur of fear charged by anger, jealously, lust, nihilism and sheer stupidity, they brutally kill Bobby Kent and preceded to tell just about everyone they know.

If it weren't a true story it would be hard to believe.

Clark's take on the material is nearly satirical. He lets funny moments be funny, despite the gravity of the situation. He keeps his young cast naked, revealing them both literally and metaphorically. We see their physical bruises along with the psychological scars they've clearly suffered. But Clark wants to connect the events in "Bully" to youth in general. The idea that these could be your kids. But, as was the case with his two previous films, "Kids" and "Another Day in Paradise," the connection is mostly implausible. As if the abhorrent deeds of a few twisted individual young people have anything to do with the great majority of young people. Sure, these kids lived at home with parents who--though seemingly unaware of who their children were--were in fact there, providing food and cars and the occasional bad advice. But Clark goes for the easy answer, suggesting that they did it because they were angry and afraid and ignored and stoned and tweaked up on sex, drugs, violent video games and hip-hop music. Maybe, but most kids have these emotions and vices, and they don't kill anybody. Still, it's gripping. And it's definitely proof that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Starring Brad Renfro, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips, Michael Pitt, Kelli Garner and Daniel Franzese. Written by Zachary Long and Roger Pullis. Produced by Chris Hanley, Don Murphy and Fernando Sulichin. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 88 min.

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