In 2011, a radical documentary entitled Bully was globally released. The film, directed by Lee Hirsch, was an in-depth look at bullying among kids in the U.S. public school system. It was made largely as a response to the unfortunate circumstances of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, two victims of bullying who took their own lives. Bully is promoted as a tool in fighting against these types of injustices. However, the film was slapped with an R-rating from the MPAA, which made it largely inaccessible to the young children and teens it was created for. After a long battle, the MPAA agreed to a PG-13 rating, provided the producers cut back on some of the profanity. Obviously, bullying has been a hot topic over the last few years, subject to many heated debates about how to handle the subject, and the bullies themselves, but it has always been an issue.
For decades, the film industry has been feeding on the public’s desire to get back at those who make them feel weak. Some explore the issue from a lighter perspective, but they all serve the same purpose as they create heroes (or anti-heroes) out of “losers”. And hey, who doesn’t like a good underdog?
In the 1990s, demonizing the “popular click” for their lack of compassion, and smarts, was pretty common. In fact, most teen pictures of the time were about finding your inner beauty and learning how to fit in without losing yourself. In Jawbreaker, the most popular girl in school is accidentally killed by her posse during a birthday prank. The attempt to cover-up their indiscretion is complicated when the school geek overhears the truth and in order to keep her from turning them in, the group decides to make her one of them. The trouble is, being popular is more difficult than she anticipated, and the girls are far meaner. When a member of the clan decides she’s had enough, she quickly learns what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their terrible ways, and must learn how to stand her ground and do the right thing in the face of bullying.
This remake of the 1978 slasher classic took the story in a whole new direction, when they decided to address where the rage of Michael Meyers stems from. To do so, Michael’s childhood is outlined as being full of violence, at home and in school. Dealing with the trouble at home transfers to Michael’s school life, where he is tormented for his mother’s sex-work and sister’s bad reputation. To make matters worse, his own desire to hide from the world saddles him with a peculiar attachment to masks – only more reason for the bullies to come after him. A total outcast, his character becomes rather sympathetic, which makes it all the more difficult to watch his transition to psycho-killer. Not surprisingly, he goes after his bully first and the film is sure to make a point to stretch out his murder thus emphasizing the severity of his actions against Michael.
7. Mean Girls
One of the most beloved teen films of its generation, Mean Girls does a great job at covering all of the emotions involved in being bullied. When the new girl, Cady arrives in her first American high school, she has no idea what to expect. Worse, she doesn’t understand the catty laws that rule the halls. What she misconstrues for niceness leads her to desire fitting-in before she even knows what has gotten into her, despite the warnings of outcast Janice. But when the tables turn and the mean girls focus their energy on ruining Cady, she is devastated for just long enough to realize she doesn’t have to put up with their shenanigans. Instead, she looks to get even. Both her rage and revenge is presented with a topping of catharsis for anyone who has been to a public school. And the best part is the kind-of happy ending, when the bullies finally realize the error of their ways and decide to, well, grow up.
6. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
After years of being taunted and laughed at, Romy is happy to be out in the real world with her BFF Michele. But when their high school reunion rears its ugly head, all of the bad feelings return. In an attempt to earn the respect of their former classmates, Romy convinces Michelle that they should brew up a bunch of lies to shove in everyone’s faces. The trouble is, lying is never the answer. As things grow tenser, Romy’s overwhelming desire to impress the old bullies puts a riff between the two girls and if it can ever be repaired, they will have to learn how to get comfortable standing up for themselves. This one is full of laughs and has a great message.
5. The Tracy Fragments
When Tracy allows herself to get swept away in a desperate fantasy world, where she is cool and even romanced, there are harsh consequences. Before long, she finds herself naked on a bus, unable to go home until she finds her missing brother. This Bruce MacDonald film is a little hard to follow, as the plot is non-linear, and the story is presented through Tracy’s unstable perspective. However, this fragmented film style allows for a true representation of how the bullying of Tracy is constantly the subject that makes it difficult for her to function. Full of rage and hate, Tracy suffers from extreme self-loathing, while simultaneously losing herself in the fantasy of a better life. This dangerous combination leads to tragedy and although she never gets to stand up to anyone, the film certainly confronts the issue in such a way that may inspire those watching to do something before things go to far.
4. Ginger Snaps
In Ginger Snaps, the Fitzgerald sisters are portrayed as high school outcasts who have found solace in that identity. Rather than trying to fit in, the girls make a conscious decision to revel in their difference. Unfortunately, this too leaves them in a dark hole of hatred and anger. Despite their efforts to enjoy who they are and ignore the rest, it’s pretty clear that the bullying they encounter takes a serious toll on their sense of selves. For Ginger, this means having a morbid fascination with death, suicide and homicide. When she is bit by a werewolf, the power she is endowed with quickly goes to her head as she discovers how easy a dish payback is to serve. This dark-comedy is very quirky in its approach to high school politics, and does some fascinating things with lycanthropy lore.
No one gets even like a girl with telekinetic powers, who has just had her prom dress ruined. Although the story is one of justice, it’s fun to watch the bullies suffer physical pain akin to the emotional pain Carrie has suffered for years. After a devastating encounter in the girls locker room, Carrie wishes she could turn to her mother for support but instead, she is subjected to the crazy rantings of a religious fanatic intent on punishing her. When things at school get worse, Carrie finds that what’s brewing inside of her is more than fear, its power. When a cruel prank is pulled on her during her moment of glory at the prom, she reaches her limits and unleashes a wrath on them that they would never have believed possible.
2. The Dirties
This 2013 mocumentary deals with the very touchy matters of not only bullying, but school shootings. When bully victims, Matt and Owen decide to express their displeasure with the gang they refer to as ‘The Dirties’ through their love of film-making, things quickly spin out of control. Wishing to be a hero, Matt develops a scheme to murder ‘The Dirties’ as part of their film. In only going after the bad guys, Matt believes he will be able to become a victor like no other, doing away with the stigma that all school-shootings are the work of irrational crazies. The film is powerful and emotionally draining and yet, Matt’s goofiness manages to create a lighter atmosphere than you might expect. The brilliantly executed film was made on a budget of only $10 000 dollars and was eventually sponsored and released by Kevin Smith, who stated that it is “the most important movie you will see all year”.
1. Revenge of the Nerds
This 1984 classic is sure not to be forgotten. When Gilbert and Lewis enter their freshman year of college, they have high hopes. But these are quickly shot down by a group of frat boys, with nothing better to do than make their lives difficult. After losing their house and falling for a jock’s girlfriend, it becomes clear to these nerds that the only answer is to fight for their rights to live peacefully on campus (and steal girlfriends they deserve). Along with their friends, Booger and Pointdexter, this rag tag group of tech-savvy misfits declare war. And yes, it’s a hilarious and beautiful thing.