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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Girl Like Her is a fictionalized documentary-style film about two teen girls: a high school sophomore who attempts suicide and the other 16-year-old who's revealed to be her bully. Unlike the actual documentary Bully, which followed several students across the country dealing with bullying, this movie looks at things from the bully's perspective -- after the victim is in the hospital. There's some strong language (most uses of words like "bitch" and "f--k" are bleeped, but "ass," "whore," "slut," "stupid," "douche," etc. aren't) and disturbing scenes of the attempted suicide, the bullying that led to it, and the hospitalized teen. The movie is uncomfortable and upsetting to watch at times, especially during the recorded footage of the constant insults, threats, and ridiculing that convinced the victim that her life wasn't worth living. But A Girl Like Her also provides a much-needed way to engage tweens and teens in thinking and talking about the subject of bullying (from either side) and how to stand up to it -- or at least inform someone about what's going on.
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What's the story?
A GIRL LIKE HER is a fictionalized documentary about bullying at South Brookdale High School. When sophomore Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth) attempts suicide by swallowing her mother's sleeping pills and ends up comatose, the "documentarian" interviews teachers, administrators, and other students to figure out what went gone wrong. One name keeps popping up as a possible motivator for Jessica's depression: Avery Keller (Hunter King), whom many students recall being mean to Jessica. The filmmaker decides to follow Avery to tell her side of the story, but Avery denies she did anything besides occasionally joke around with Jessica ... until Jessica's best friend, Brian (Jimmy Bennett), reveals that he has video evidence of Avery's persistent threats and bullying.
Is it any good?
This is a no-frills dramatic portrayal of the devastating impact of bullying. A Girl Like Her doesn't show the overtly physical variety of bullying, but rather the emotionally abusive kind that girls seems to specialize in: harassing texts, non-stop insults, locker pranks, threatening language, and more. King is fabulously (and frighteningly) believable as queen-bee bully Avery, who has troubles at home and takes it out on her former friend, Jessica. She, like so many adolescents, is unable to admit -- even to herself -- that she played any part in Jessica's decision to attempt suicide.
For parents, it won't be easy to watch A Girl Like Her, because it's difficult not to project your own child in the role of the victim. But it's also the role of the bully that audiences should be willing to accept. Avery isn't 100% evil; she's capable of redemption, even if it takes literally watching evidence of what she'd done to make her acknowledge the ugly truth. But it's only by discussing and taking a look at these truths that the bullying epidemic can be defeated. Brian's role in helping Jessica keep quiet about Avery mistreating her is also debated, with Jessica's grieving parents thanking him for being a good friend even though he could have (and maybe should have) told an adult about the situation earlier. A Girl Like Her is one of those movies you have trouble forgetting, but that's the point; see it, talk about it, and hope there are no Jessicas or Averys in your family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the issue of teen bullying is getting addressed more frequently in popular culture. Is bullying as widespread as A Girl Like Her makes it seem? What are ways you can help stand up to bullying? Bullying is often seen as physical abuse, but A Girl Like Her shows that words are just as powerful. Talk about the different ways that people can bully others; what has the most lasting impact?
Parents, talk to your kids about teen suicide. This is an incredibly tough topic, but one that needs to be addressed. What makes some people think that it's their only option? What impact does their decision have on their friends and family? Where can kids in despair turn for assistance?
In one scene, a father shows compassion for the actual bullies, who often need as much help as those being bullied. How does this movie portray the bully? Why do you think she bullied her former friend?
Brian is stuck between wanting to keep his promise to Jessica and needing to tell others about her situation. Do you think it would have made him a bad friend to tell others before things went so far? What's the message here for teens who have friends suffering from bullying?
- In theaters: March 27, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 19, 2016
- Cast: Jimmy Bennett, Hunter King, Lexi Ainsworth
- Director: Amy S. Weber
- Studio: Parkside Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: disturbing thematic material involving teens, and for language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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