by Greg Muskewitz
And yet another would-be thought-churner — only this time we’re not only rooted on Earth, but somewhat (!) in reality, too. Larry Clark’s third feature, “Bully” is adapted from the novel by Jim Schutze, about a real-life event where several teenagers took it into their own hands to murder a local bully.What makes this a typical Clark feature is in the words sleazy and exploitative. Two childhood friends, one the bully, the other his stooge (Nick Stahl and Brad Renfro, respectively) cruise for skanks and end up with one each (Bijou Phillips and Rachel Miner). The stooge and the whore blossom a relationship, but the more she hangs around her man, the more abusive she sees the bully is to him. Along with her brother, she assembles several other accessories — the other skank, her boyfriend, her friend, a “hitman” — to murder the unsuspecting bully. Seven against one. We are never given any insight into why Miner’s character loves Renfro so much, or why she goes through so much trouble, even though it seems quite evident that she wasn’t all there in the head. Early on we see the polar-opposites of the bully and the stooge’s families; the former think the stooge is messing their up, and wants to move their son away, while the latter knows their son is abused but refuse to move only due to that. Where the movie would have gained a lot of interest, a lot more depth, would have been in the parents of the involved childrens’ reactions. “Bully” is advertised as claiming that the parents didn’t see any wrong with the action and felt that the bully deserved it. But we really never see that. (When Phillips begins breaking down to her mom, she responds aloofly, “Ali, are you talking about a murder-murder?”) It could have been a far more engaging and edifying result had the movie explored the moral ambiguity from the parents’ POVs, but we hardly get an opinion from them. It could have easily elicited a lot more from the audience as well on whether we agree with the situation portrayed (accurate or not), based on what we are shown. It brings up the interesting issue of the teens’ notion that the bully “deserved” it. Everything takes so long to get to, and when the act is finally committed (the scene is a tense one), the kids trip-up and break-down so fast, and before you know it, the movie is done. We know, especially from the way the murder went down and from the youngsters’ awkward shakiness that they are “fucked” either way, but their actions never would have sustained them from trouble and punishment. There was no getting away from it. Clark is too much of a chickenshit to take a stance against their actions, be it a pro or con position. His act of neutrality is like saying nothing at all; it isn’t a statement, and it doesn’t qualify as an observation. His smarmy degeneration of troubled teenagers is a disturbing one; he approaches it like a pornographer and seriously takes advantage of the willing actresses. In an interview in “The Calgary Sun” with Natalie Portman a few years back, she said “Young actors often don’t think of the consequences of doing nudity or sex scenes. They want the role so badly that they agree to be exploited, and then end up embarrassing family, friends, and even strangers.” He did it in “Kids,” and he does it here. Portman hits it on the nose, and while Clark similarly exploits the males, it much tamer, and he doesn’t have the backbone to push for male frontal nudity like he does to the females. At the very least, Clark has taken advantage of Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Bijou Phillips and Rachel Miner in their willingness to fulfill the demands on the role. Bijou is too good for Clark, and it’s disappointing to see her acquiesce at Clark’s behest. The rest of the cast pretty much is within the decent range, with Stahl squeaking out ahead of the others by a few (pubic) hairs.
"Larry the exploiter."
With Kelli Garner, Leo Fitzpatrick and Daniel Franzese.
http://www.landmark-theatres.comFinal Verdict: D.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5480&reviewer=172
originally posted: 07/28/01 13:07:26