Larry Clark’s Bully is a fascinating, disturbing and sickening film to watch. It plays like an Afterschool Special penned by the Marquis de Sade. It views suburbia as the crusty sheets on a seedy motel bed. A group of aimless teenagers drift through life like plankton in a dirty ocean. They drink, fuck, smoke weed and drop acid to alleviate the suffocating boredom of the passage of days. Their parents, ranging from politely apathetic to officious and creepy, weave in and out of the lives of the teens like underpaid guards on rotating shifts at a juvenile detention center. Each sunrise and sunset inches them along in their prison sentence.
Mark off the time until you get knocked up, locked up or forced to get a real job.
This flick is the retelling of the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent. Clark spares us nothing as he shoves our faces in the fetid, casual depravity and sordid dealings that go down in the lives of these Florida teenagers. Not to knock Florida, nice weather and all, but is anyone surprised that this crazy shit went down in that sweltering wasteland? It’s like some post apocalyptic movie from the eighties down there. Who am I kidding? I would move to the Sunshine State in a New York Minute. I would gladly risk getting knifed by some coked up redneck outside of a sleazy strip club, or have my brains blown out by thugs in an alley out the back of a rub and tug. I am getting taxed to death up here in the cold Empire State. Slow Death from the political elite in Albany.
These teens fuck as often as most kids played stickball when I was their age. We played a ton of stickball. We were also chick repellent. It was tough to get the girls to want to hook up with us. Consent in Bully, however, doesn’t seem to be an issue for some of the characters. The sex in this flick is random, emotionless and cold; like getting mowed down by a drunk driver. The fornicating youngsters often reminded me of shaved alley cats, emaciated and soggy, twisting themselves up behind a dumpster and screwing among the garbage.
No spoiler here, some kid gets offed. The camera doesn’t blink during the killing. The viewer gets to witness every stab, gurgle, spurt and bone crashing thud. This murder, however, is justified. That is what the killers think. The crew has suffered under the abject tyranny of Bobby Kent. The oppressed teens turn on him and essentially devour him like a pack of jackals, ripping Kent to pieces. All societies have laws, even those inhabited by denizens with no direction in life other than to drop acid at an arcade, or to cruise the streets looking for trouble. Justice has to be handed out. They plan the killing at a pizza joint as if they were scheming up how to get an adult to purchase liquor for them.
It was just that easy.
Bobby Kent, at best, can be described by using a different vowel in his last name. He is far worse than any nasty, schoolyard name. Bobby is a straight up sociopath. He is played with convincing sadism by the talented Nick Stahl. The first time we meet him he slams his best friend’s head into the side of a pizza machine as punishment for a slight social infraction. Bobby has his way with the females who dwell in his sphere of influence. Marty, his best bud, is Bobby’s favorite prey. He pimps Marty, played with quiet pathos by the late Brad Renfro, out to middle aged men at a gay nightclub. Bobby is a raging homophobe. Judging by his actions in this flick, he is no doubt terrified of what excites him sexually, so he lashes out. He drops gay slurs while making his friends watch lewd acts he filmed Marty performing with other men. Bobby jokes and claims to be making some type of public service message with the videos. You know, to show how fucked up “those people ” are. And to make a few bucks and sell it as porn. A psychopathic free market enthusiast, young Mister Kent is. Would anyone be surprised if Bobby, a good student, graduated from high school and became a politician or a Hollywood producer?
Marty meets Lisa, a quiet oddball, played by Rachel Miner. After getting to know one another during an afternoon, they fuck in the sweat stained backseat of a car. Bobby is in the front seat with Lisa’s friend, Ali. She is portrayed as a diabolical flirt by Bijou Phillips. Bobby seems more interested in leering at Marty and Lisa than being with the attractive Ali. Bobby is a sick predator and he sees the passengers in the car as his playthings. They are toys that he wishes to bend, twist and break. When he gets bored, they will be discarded. His toys will always be on the shelf for Bobby when he decides to use them again.
It’s Bobby Kent’s world and everyone else is just getting pummeled in it.
Like many teenagers do, Lisa and Marty fall in love at the speed of their favorite, x-rated hip hop tune that is always blaring from a car stereo or television set. Bitches and hos need love, too. Sounds like something stupid Bobby, the corrosive misogynist, might say. He’s just signing along with the tune. Wink, wink. Lisa dislikes Marty’s tormentor from the start. As boyfriend and girlfriend get stoned in bed, Marty has the solemn tone of a surgeon delivering shitty news as he recounts the harsh history of Bobby’s cruelty towards him. A gentle rain falls outside and we can hear the rumbles of thunder in the distance. As she witnesses Bobby’s torturous ways firsthand, Lisa’s face reminds one of a porcelain doll. Her large dark eyes and inquisitive expression reveal something sinister within her soul. For her man, she seems willing to fight fire with fire.
Do you feel like you need to take a shower yet?
Larry Clark has courted some controversy for a few of the flicks he has directed. He has earned that animus with Bully. I’m not your crazy uncle’s Bible thumping right wing friend. I worship a now mythic small government and the Bill of Rights is a must, but I’m no prude. Read some of my work to get a feel for the shit I’m into and have experienced. Semi-fiction. I say this to illustrate the fact that Clark pushes the envelope in this flick. His camera is often a lecherous Peeping Tom, spying on teenagers as they go through the mechanical motions of sex. Going by the IMDB, all of the actors that did the screwing and getting naked were of legal age. Film is about perception, however. These are kids we’re watching doing very adult things. Illegal things. Disturbing things. Clark has a small role in this that could’ve further ignited a firestorm towards him. He plays the white trash father of one of the kids who thinks it is quite alright to drink with his maybe eleven year old son in the basement bar.
The entire cast is wonderful in this. Besides the aforementioned players, Michael Pitt plays Donny. He has a great Luca Brasi moment as he practices introducing himself to Bobby. His blood is polluted with intoxicants when he nervously goes through the motions. Kelli Garner plays the pretty, childlike Heather who has addiction issues. Daniel Franzese plays Lisa’s cousin. He seems to be thoughtful, but wanting to fit in will cost him dearly. And Leo Fitzpatrick has a great turn as “The Hitman”. He offers many tough guy platitudes as he drinks beer in his parent’s garage with delinquent ten year olds. We get the sense his mullet is writing checks his wife-beater can’t cash.
The final twelve minutes of Bully are mesmerizing. It details the fleeting moments of the groups’s freedom, their arrests and the beginning of the trial. Fatboy Slim’s “Song for Shelter(Talking ‘Bout My Baby) blares on the soundtrack. We see the defendants in the pen in the courtroom, attire provided to them by the Department of Corrections. They bicker and fight with each other. Accusations of being a snitch abound. Stern faces in the courtroom regard them silently, harshly. They seem sickened at what has transpired. So will the audience.
You still might think the film is brilliant.