A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Beat a Bully is a badly written, badly acted feature that tries to put a comic twist on how to defuse bullies. The victim persuades his seventh-grade tormenters that his father is a Mafia hit man and that they and their families are in jeopardy if they don't treat him with deference. Overacting and bad dialogue signal that none of this is real or should be scary. The lives of two men are threatened, but no guns, knives, blood, or overt violence is shown. Kids attack the bad guys with Sriracha sauce in the eyes and sprinkle sleeping pills and laxatives on their pizza. Expect flatulence, belching, and potty humor, as well as name-calling and minor profanity ("pissed off").
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What's the story?
The examples set in HOW TO BEAT A BULLY won't be of much help to real kids who move to a new town and face bullying. Twelve-year-old Cory's parents advise him to ignore his impulse to punch his bullies and instead use words and gestures of friendship and generosity to win the bullies over. Cory's words conjure a fantasy home life, describing him as the son of a mob hit man while, in fact, his father, Joe, is a mild-mannered insurance salesman. Not only do the bullies back off and treat Cory with fear and respect, but they also spread the false story among their parents. Neighbors shun Cory's dad socially but buy lots of insurance. Real mobsters get wind of the story and through euphemism and vague lingo manage to hire Joe to "take care of" an employee, who happens to actually be a hit man, and that puts Joe's life in danger (the weapon is a not-very-scary pitchfork). Cory and the bullies-turned-friends ambush the bad guys Home Alone-style to save the day.
Is it any good?
This inept attempt at slapstick won't amuse anyone but perhaps the youngest viewers, and even they will probably get tired of the juvenile humor and antics. The acting is amateur. The writing is clichéd. The directing is formulaic. New Yawk accents come and go. The jokes are terrible, from "weapons of mob destruction" to "I can make you holey," uttered by the man brandishing the pitchfork. Families looking for an insightful look at bullying should look elsewhere, as should families looking for a funny family comedy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it's like to move to a new town and adjust to a new school and friends. How would you adapt?
How long do you think it would take to make friends as the newcomer in a seventh-grade class? What do you think would be different about living in New Jersey from living in California?
Bullying is a serious topic. Is this movie meant to be taken seriously? How can you tell?
What should you do if you or someone you know is bullied?
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