Bullying is a problem we have heard about, witnessed or even experienced. In the last 10 years alone, we have seen the same technology designed to keep us connected being used as a weapon to attack and alienate us into isolation. More recently, after school specials, tv shows and films constantly remind us that bullying is big problem in the school system, but few of them offer solutions aside from “sticking it out” or “tell an authority figure” who ultimately does nothing to quell the situation. A Girl Like Me takes it one step forward and shows us the best way to take down a bully is to introduce a third party documentary film crew to take care of them.
A Girl Like Her‘s use of current surveillance technology and documentary style filming helps to create a cinéma vérité feel for a film that could easily come off as hokey and gimmicky. In the film, a documentary film crew, led by director (real life writer/director of this film) Amy S. Weber, is sent to one of the best public schools in America to do a story on their success over many better funded private schools. Coincidentally, a student named Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth) just tried to commit suicide, so naturally the original intention of the documentary changes to try and figure out why a girl like Jessica, who goes to one of the top schools in the country, would try to kill herself. Jessica can’t tell us herself since her suicide attempt left her in an indefinite coma, but her best friend Brian (Jimmy Bennett) has some footage that shed better light on the situation, and all spotlights point to Avery (Hunter King).
In an attempt to record (for posterity’s sake?) the relentless bullying Jessica faces on a daily basis, Brian puts a small camera in brooch so Jessica can wear it inconspicuously. With the hidden camera, we can see from a first-person/chest-level perspective of Avery’s daily torture of Jessica. The footage is never shown to anyone until after the documentary crew arrives. Circumventing any school authority, the documentary takes it upon itself to get to the root of the problem, focusing on Avery and trying to figure out why she would do this to another human, let alone someone she used to be good friends with.
The filming uses a variety of camera sourced footage in an attempt to contemporize itself. It uses camera phones, webcams and even espionage-caliber video to give it a grittier verisimilitude. The video style isn’t what bothers me, and neither are the adept performance by all of the cast (most notably Hunter King). What I can’t get past is the shift in the narrative, that basically derails and diffuses some of the pathos it has built up to that point. I agree with the film’s promotion of a wider understanding of the situation, like how the bully is actually a victim herself, but I don’t agree with it being done at the expense of the true victim of the bullying. There is a noticeable shift from witnessing the torturing events done to Jessica, to the documentary’s focus being empathetically placed on Avery after she is revealed to be the merciless bully.
I recognize Weber’s story as an attempt to address the systematic cycle of abuse leading to more abuse, but not enough is done to create a believable victim-hood for the character of Avery. The footage we see of her single-minded persecution of Jessica cannot plausibly be explained away just by saying that her overbearing mother, unemployed dad, drop-out brother, and lack of “real” friends despite being the most popular/powerful person at school, is the root of her abusive tendencies. She has an epiphany after watching all the first hand footage of her treatment of Jessica, and doesn’t realize how harsh she was, but, honestly, it has to take a degree of self-awareness to go out of your way to victimize a person on a daily/hourly basis. Avery’s treatment of Jessica would give any terrorist prisoner methods a run for their money.
A Girl Like Her is a highly dramatized docudrama that, despite some very unbelievable narrative choices, reminds us about the harmful actions we may not always consciously make. While the performances and interesting take on understanding the source of bullying may prove to be only mildly intriguing to adult audiences, it is clear this is meant for a much younger, socially insensitive, adolescent demographic.
RATING: ★★★★★(5/10 stars)