That tactic of shifting blame rather than openly discussing the root causes of bullying is typical of co-directors Lee Hirsch and Alicia Dwyer's crassly manipulative approach. "Bully" encourages viewers to wallow in the helplessness of the film's teenage victims and their parents.
Even Ja'maya, a star basketball player that brings her mother's gun to school with her one day, is celebrated because she's able to come home after a few months' stay in a psychiatric facility. The fact that Ja'maya perpetuated the cycle of violence that led her to be bullied in the first place is apparently irrelevant. Tears and outrage speak loudest in "Bully," making it very easy to ignore the fact that Ja'maya is part of the problem, too. Hirsch and Dwyer tellingly begin "Bully" by having the father of Tyler, a teen that committed suicide, directly address the camera and talk about the loss of his son. However, he doesn't talk about what he did or did not do while Tyler was alive but instead, he, like several other parents and concerned community members in "Bully," complain about negligent school administrators, teachers and bus drivers for doing nothing to stop bullying while it's happening.
But while the buck is forcefully passed to Alex's vice principal, nobody really pursues his mother, who tries and fails to elicit a response from her son when she asks him point blank if anything happened to him at school. Alex's silence speaks for itself apparently, making it very easy for Hirsch and Dwyer to fill in the blanks with scenes of Alex eating lunch alone, good-naturedly comparing girls to candy bars or walking around the schoolyard with barbecue sauce smeared around his mouth. He is innocent and needs to be defended. But nobody in "Bully" can do that or knows how. So school officials are conveniently turned into scapegoats and cherubic Alex becomes the poster child for voiceless teenaged victims everywhere.
What's worse is the way Kelby's story ends, not with an affirmation of her clique of friends who accept her, but with her dad boasting about how he pulled his daughter out of class and is now home-schooling her. Kelby acknowledges that this is a hasty stopgap solution, saying that being accepted will take time. But the announcement of Kelby's home-schooling is, nonetheless, the resolution to her journey.
So Kelby’s story doesn’t end with a sign that the most important thing for Kelby is that she's loved by friends and family that accept her. Instead, we get Kelby's dad telling us that they've essentially ostracized her further in order to help her. That kind of thinking makes Kelby a great martyr, on par even with the relatively friendless Alex. But it also reveals Hirsch and Dwyer's real priorities. Their victims cannot be empowered but rather pitied for their status as social pariahs. Difference is not a good thing in "Bully" but rather a frail quality and a mark of outcasts everywhere. The good intentions of everyone involved in making "Bully" don't matter when the underlying logic to their film is so latently disparaging. [D]