Bully Movie Review

Larry Clark -- who wrote and directed his first film, Kids, at the tender age of 52 and in the process, broke the mold about what we should expect from a movie about teenagers -- returns to familiar ground in Bully, a striking and harrowing follow-up.

A slam-dunk natural subject for Clark, Bully follows the based-on-reality story of Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro), who along with his girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) decides to brutally slay his "best friend" Bobby (Nick Stahl) as payback for a lifetime of abuse. Set in the ultra-trashy nether regions of southern Florida -- and I mean seriously, beyond-WWF trashy -- there's little to do but drive your car, play video games, have sex, and beat the crap out of your friends.

Bobby's brutalities extend to everyone who crosses his path -- he punches Marty in the face for driving poorly, he rapes Marty's girlfriend Lisa, he rapes Lisa's friend Ali (Bijou Phillips), he pimps Marty for cash at an amateur strip night, and he even interferes with Marty's plan when he scams on chicks at the mini-mall. Obsessed with gay porn, Bobby is portrayed as deeply confused and probably a closet homosexual, a psychotic without hope of recovery. Even Bobby's clueless father is oblivious to his son's actions; in fact, all the parents in the film are ignorant to the actions of their children. So of course, as it is decided in a moment of almost careless discusssion, Bobby must be killed.

Masterminded by Lisa, Bobby is driven out to the Everglades by seven conspirators, stabbed repeatedly, and left as food for the crabs and gators. By the time we reach the inevitable aftermath, Clark's picture has devastated us with its deft dissection of a tormented and hollow New American Youth.

Laden with a striking amount of graphic, sweaty, and frequently brutal teen sex, its stars covered with a disturbing number of scars and bruises, Bully is as difficult to watch as Kids, and it is equally as assured. While the script is exquisite, its actors deserve the highest lauding. Renfro is extremely brave and confident in his role as the confused whipping boy. Miner (you may know her as the former Mrs. Macauley Culkin) is equally valiant in a character that requires her to be completely naked in alternating scenes. But it is Clark's uncompromised skewering of white bread Americana that makes Bully so compelling. Clark pulls no punches and never panders to the Moral Majority; he simply makes his point, over and over again: This is what your children think is acceptable behavior. And he's right, because it really happened.

Still, Clark will always be more a writer than a director in my eyes. His hand is often unsteady as he can't decide how to frame a scene; as a result, some bits of Bully look rushed, others amateurish. Most notably this occurs with a long and dizzying spinning-camera shot that adds nothing to the picture except, well, dizziness.

Regardless of the directing foibles, Bully gets my flat recommendation. It probably goes without saying, but this is one summer teen movie that's probably not for the kids.

The DVD release of Bully is stellar -- a crisp transfer with just the right amount of extras. Among them are a short interview with Clark, plus a boatload of surprisingly literate interviews with the cast. Highly recommended.

Surf's up, six feet under.


Bully Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2001


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