This is a highly emotional film that is difficult to watch because the subject matter seems so realistically raw. Writer/director Amy S. Weber has made her mostly hand-held camera work look like a documentary, and the effect is immediate. It’s about school bullying, which, of course, everyone is against, but nonetheless persists in our schools. Most of us can remember some incident from our childhood where we were not treated kindly by another child. But what if that escalates into habitual, continual harassment? What does that do to a child? What does it say about the one doing the bullying? And how about the others – students, teachers, administration – who stand by and watch and do nothing to stop it? Whose “fault” is it?
Jessica Burns (Lexie Ainsworth) is an easy girl to like – cute, in a girl-next-door kind of way, a little shy, a lot quiet, but with a bright smile and an easy-to-be-with demeanor. She was once friends with Avery Keller (Hunter King), but something happened that made them drift apart; maybe it was Avery wanting to cheat off Jessica’s test or maybe they just drifted apart and made other friends. Actually, Jessica says she has only one friend, Jimmy (Brian Slater), who’s a really good listener. But he’s concerned enough about the bullying that Jessica has received from Avery that he designs a hidden camera inside a piece of jewelry that Jessica can wear like a pin or brooch (is that word even used anymore?). Jimmy convinces Jessica to record what happens at school so they can document Avery’s bullying.
Meanwhile, the high school itself is in the midst of winning a national award, which, of course, leads the administrators to cheer and tout how good the school is, ignoring problems or sweeping them under the rug. Ms. Weber inserts herself into the film by playing a documentarian, Amy Gallagher, who convinces the school that she wants to make a film about their great successes, but in fact, soon focuses on the bullying situation. At first, they’re deceptive: They find Avery and tell her that since she’s so popular, they want to film her with her friends to show the perspective of “the popular kid” in the school. This, of course, appeals to Avery’s ego, and she agrees to let them film her, including in her home, which is not exactly a paragon of Middle America. Her mother is brash and controlling; her father is unemployed and completely cowed; her older brother, having dropped out of college, now stays home and plays video games, which his mom constantly nags him about, but doesn’t really do anything to change his behavior. Avery spends most of her time in her room because she’s tired of listening to the family drama, but she doesn’t help much, either: she doesn’t work, she doesn’t have any school activities, having dropped out of cheerleading, so really, nobody seems to be good at getting what they need.
Jessica finally gets so tired of the constant harassment that she takes a bunch of pills, which lands her in the hospital in a coma. Now everyone is in an uproar, including both families involved, the circle of friends, and the entire school. Director Weber is still filming it like a documentary, with occasional glimpses of camera crews, but then also shows us footage of the “hidden” camera pinned on Jessica; the multi-layering is skillful, but also confusing. The actors are persuasive, but most of all, this is a subject that needs to be talked about everywhere. So it won’t happen here.
Questions For Discussion:
1) What was your experience with bullying as a child or teenager? How traumatic was it for you at the time and does it still bother you?
2) What can be done to confront a bully and change the behavior, while still loving the person?
3) Who would have the most difficulty forgiving in this situation?
Ronald P. Salfen is the supply pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.