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Film Review: Bully

Larry Clark's latest cinematic indulgence...

It's clear that, as a teenage growing up in Athlone, I missed a lot. For a start, bagfuls of substances, hours of crazy sex and fast cars. I turned out okay ? the kids in ?Bully? don't.

Larry Clark's film 'Bully'

This is Larry Clark's first big feature since his successful art-exploitation (take your pick) outing ?Kids? in 1995. You may recall that movie ? it had plenty of teenage flesh, violence and drug consumption, and everything comes to a rotten end. Again, welcome to the world of ?Bully?.

The plot concerns the attempts of a group of barely-know-each-other friends to murder their dominating mutual ?friend?, Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl). The ?bully? of the title, Kent is a repugnant, schizophrenic character, who interacts with his fellow characters mainly by insulting or assaulting them. When Kent's lifelong acquaintance Marty (Brad Renfo) acquires a new girlfriend, Lisa (Rachel Miner), he decides that the bully must die. The rest of the movie concerns the implementation and consequences of this.

There's more to it than this, and the character of Lisa may emerge to be darker than expected, but all plot and drama in ?Bully? takes a back seat when faced with the alluring, depressing, exciting, violent and often disgusting style in which Larry Clark makes movies. "Bully? plays like the scratched and bruised underbelly of MTV ? despite all the required props for classic youth film (beautiful young actors, Florida setting and kicking soundtrack) what emerges here is a tale and a portrayal of a way of life so distasteful that to watch a second time would be difficult.

And Clark situates his film in a social void. Trailer-trash and comfortable middle-class mix (and exchange drugs, weapons and fluids), while no comment is made on the decline of the family unit (something which ?Kids? made much of). Of the four families involved in ?Bully?, three remain happy, functioning family units.

The action is played on the streets, parking lots, back seats and bedrooms. Here the teenagers smoke dope, fuck, listen to Eminem and attempt to forge their own personalities through a haze of self-doubt and marijuana smoke. Peer pressure is all pervasive, the dominant force in the movie ? so much so that the viewer often finds it impossible to take one character's viewpoint for much longer than they speak.

The characters? endless, mindless, MTV'd conversation is a chore to watch, but nonetheless serves realism. As do the movie's visuals ? at this point having Larry Clark portray teenage lust and violence is a bit like having Mr. Kipling to take care of your lemon slices ? this is the most visual challenging movie of its type since, well, ?Kids?.

We are provided with plentiful scenes of drug taking (indeed, the joint appears to be the star of most scenes), videogame playing, violence (to the point of death) and of course - that old staple - teenage sex. Certain cuts and scenes, particularly the excessively pointless lingering shots below the female waistline (stay with me lads!) are superfluous to the overall film ? hard fought dramatic tension is often lost to the next lingering teen sex shot.

But maybe I?m being picky. Not many people will see ?Bully?, most will be entertained, some will be shocked. The majority of punters will stick to Buffy, and perhaps rightly so. The ultimate conclusion of Clark's film does contain a certain element of ?So What?? But this is one movie where the ride itself may well be more important that the final destination.

And for everyone who ever wanted to be a teenager ? this is your movie.

Cormac Looney

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