Selected release (98 minutes)
THE subject of schoolyard bullying will resonate with almost anyone who survived childhood. Still, there are numerous problems with Lee Hirsch's well-intentioned documentary, starting with the impossibility of getting children to behave on camera as they would when no adults are around.
Hirsch concentrates on bearing witness to the victims of bullying, cross-cutting between persecuted kids from different parts of middle America. We also hear from the families of two boys who committed suicide after being bullied relentlessly, though there's nothing to say they didn't act from other motives as well.
Undeniably, the film has its moving moments. It would take a hard heart not to feel for Alex Libby (pictured), a toothy, bespectacled boy who wears his gentle nature on his sleeve.
Equally, you have to admire the courage of Kelby Johnson, a teenage lesbian from a God-fearing community in Oklahoma, whose mother admits that having a gay daughter has forced her to reassess her views of right and wrong. We see relatively little of the actual bullies, which comes as a relief, since being tagged as a "bully" in a widely distributed film is unlikely to improve any child's social status or mental health.
The frustrating thing about Bully is it never gets past the idea of bullies as bad apples, pinning the blame either on the kids or on their supposedly indifferent care-givers.
When Alex's parents turn up at his school to complain, they're politely brushed off by a deputy principal. The scene is meant to prompt outrage - yet it's not hard to see why this weary-looking woman opts to smooth things over, given that everyone agrees there's no quick fix.
Bully is scarcely a movie at all: it's closer to an Internet phenomenon, like the Kony 2012 video or the It Gets Better project. The viewer is invited to sympathise with the underdog, to be angered and uplifted by turns.
Yet the issue being brought to light is never defined with precision.
Is bullying really more severe in the US than elsewhere and has the situation worsened in recent years?
If so, what does that tell us about the overall state of the American psyche - as reflected, for instance, by a president who feels entitled to launch drone strikes on suspected terrorists worldwide?
Though Hirsch shows no interest in such questions, the best you can say for Bully is that it does make you wonder.