The new movie “Bully” scored a major victory when celebrities including Meryl Streep persuaded the Motion Picture Association of America to lower its rating from an inexplicable R to a more plausible PG-13; that way, teenagers can go on their own. Now they have to do it.
The documentary, now playing in the Boston area, follows tormented kids in towns across the American heartland, through cinderblock hallways filled with lockers to be shoved into, weed-filled playgrounds with blacktops to be tripped onto, and clanging buses with seats to be hip-checked out of. Kids will instantly recognize the ineffectual school officials. But they’ll be stopped short by the pain of parents who rightly fear for the lives of their bullied kids. They’ll be overwhelmed by the courage of the victims themselves, forced at a young age to rationalize unspeakable cruelty, violence, and ostracism. And they could be shocked into changing their behavior by witnessing the community outpouring that followed the deaths of children who killed themselves.
While Streep and other celebrity advocates are right to hope that kids will stream in on their own, “Bully” may be better experienced as a family night out. There will be plenty to talk about afterwards.