“Bully,” the headline-grabbing new documentary from Lee Hirsch, examines the lives of five small-town kids and their parents. Kelby, a lesbian, Alex, a mildly autistic boy, Ja’Meya, an African-American girl, and two boys named Tyler (one Ty, for short), who each tragically took their own lives after they just couldn’t take the taunting and physical abuse any more.
For a movie about such a complicated and important issue, “Bully” spends most of its time on the surface, following the kids and teachers as they hopelessly stumble their way through the school year. There are some shocking moments of on-screen violence, but even more incredible is one Sioux City, Iowa, administrator’s reaction to it. She actually tries to force a kid to face his tormentor with a handshake, and wags her finger at him for not making nice with the bully that tried to choke, stab, and punch him in the face. “Tell me how to fix this,” she sighs to the camera in desperation, “I don’t have any type of magic.”