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A GIRL LIKE HER (Review)

Review by Elizabeth Weitz
Produced by Brian Oakley, Danny Roth, 
Jeff Spilman, Damiano Tucci
Written and Directed by Amy Webber
Staring Hunter King, Lexi Ainsworth, 
Stephanie Cotton, Jimmy Bennett, Linda Boston

Being a teenager is both the best and worst time in a person’s life.  Ask anyone who made it through those few horrible/beautiful years and most all would tell you they never want to go back to it. In Amy S. Weber’s docu-style movie, A Girl Like Her, that painful time in a person’s life is beautifully told via the most honest depiction of bullying I have ever seen.

Told from the viewpoints of both the bully and the victim, the story of 16 year old Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth) who attempts suicide after a year-long barrage of harassment by her former friend Amy Keller (Hunter King), the popular girl who wages a psychological war on Jessica, shows the deeply lost relationship between people when they enter into the age of adolescence and are hovering between the desire to be heard and loved and the need for independence and self-discovery.

What Weber’s film does fantastically is to show that bullying is never just about one person.

The horror of bullying is the almost symbiotic dependence that the bully and the bullied have created together. The victimization of someone is all about control and for most bullies, exerting control over a particular person allows them to feel that they are not lost in a world which exerts control over them. For those who are bullied, the bully becomes the most important person in their lives, the person who can make or break them with ease and, it is in this tightly bound relationship where the real horror lies.

For parents and teachers of this age group (who need to see this film ASAP by the way) the psychological realm of teenage bullying is still a mysterious and taboo subject (even if they had been through it themselves) and the question of curbing it is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest without any supplies:

How do you handle it in an appropriate manner without making it worse?

What steps need to be taken to create a Safe Zone for students?

How should the parents be brought in and told about it in a way that doesn’t negate the process of student safety?

Even here Weber doesn’t shy away from how gloriously unsure the adults are in dealing with the issue, having both the teachers and the administration acknowledging the fact that bullying exists in their school but are seemingly powerless to stop it. To try and show that they are wanting to help, they do what most adults do when confronted with any teen-related cultural problems, they pass the buck to someone else, in this case to a motivational speaker who talks abstractly about bullying that doesn’t really address the fact that teens, both those that bully and those who are bullied, are in deep pain. Nor does the old adage of “Tell an Adult” really work in this situation, especially when the repercussions of doing so breaks the ancient kid/tween/teen rule of tattle-tailing, thus the circle of harassment continues unabated.

In the case of Jessica and Avery, the desperate and raw pain of their lives are shown unfiltered through both a personal video journal started by Avery (via the encouragement of the faux documentarian played by Webber herself) and through a spy camera that Jessica wears (given to her by her best friend Brian (Jimmy Bennett) who wants to help her) capturing all the ways in which she is brutalized.

By allowing the viewer to experience both sides of the story, Webber has not only managed to craft a film that gives us a front-row seat into the moment when Jessica’s self-destruction occurs and the aftermath of that choice (and I can’t give enough credit to Stephanie Cotton and Mark Boyd who play Jessica’s parents, their performance is heartbreaking) but also to Avery’s mentality and the reasons for her behavior.

A Girl Like Her is a beautiful and important film, one that I hope is shown throughout schools and begins to create a real change in how we handle the act of bullying.

And let’s face it, it’s about time.

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