There are moments in Bully where you might think Larry Clark has gone too far. After all, this is the man whose photographs of real-life sex, crime and drug use - particularly involving young teenagers - leave nothing to the imagination, leading many to portray him as a manipulator and exploiter of others' misery.
For example, there's the scene where a character goes to bed with the bully of the title, only to be violently raped. Emerging from her bedroom, crying and bruised, she tells her friend what's just happened. "I told you he's kinky," is the blithe response. It seems a cheap jibe at an inappropriate moment. But if you read Jim Schutze's non-fiction book of the same name, you realise that not only is this exactly what was said, but Clark has actually toned the whole story down.
The setting is Fort Lauderdale, a middle-class community in Florida. Bobby (Nick Stahl) and Marty (Brad Renfro) are best friends with a twist: they don't like each other. Bobby is violent and overbearing, Marty is downtrodden and resentful, yet still they form this strange, sado-masochistic tag-team.
The partnership is threatened when Marty meets Lisa (Rachel Miner), a clingy, self-conscious teenager who hates the way her boyfriend is being treated. To solve the problem, she settles on a plan to murder Bobby, and rustles up a posse of slackers, spacecakes and stoners to help her do the deed.
If it were fiction, this would make a fabulous satire, and it's easy to be distracted by some great comic one-liners. But the fascinating fact about Bully is that, by and large, this really did happen and these things really were said, raising some mind-boggling questions about today's youth. Yesterday's teen `problem' movies focused on poverty, abuse and disadvantage, but Clark's gripping, intelligent film suggests the new threat is respectable society, where spoiled, aimless children are inventing a logic of their own that exempts them from all moral responsibilities. See it, read Schutze's book, then stay well away from Fort Lauderdale.
Larry Clark follows up Kids with another dissection of America's disaffected youth, this time based on a true story. Lurid, exploitative, violent - and impossible to ignore.
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