A Girl Like Her
It's difficult to make a movie about bullying without resembling an Afterschool Special. To her credit, writer/director Amy S. Weber avoids this hurdle. A Girl Like Her unfolds with a clear-eyed approach to the subject - a drama that fleshes out the principals and shows, without excusing the bully, that pain is not the exclusive domain of the victim. Some scenes are overwrought, a few of the supporting performances are uneven, and the ending is a little too neat. On the whole, however, A Girl Like Her offers an emotionally honest examination of an important and often overlooked societal problem.
The movie is presented using a first-person format but this overused technique (most often employed in "found footage" horror movies) has a purpose here beyond gimmickry. By employing a faux documentary approach, Weber gets us into the lives and minds of the characters - something critical to understanding both the bully and her victim. The downside is the usual with first-person films: those with motion sensitivity may find the nausea factor creeping in. (Sitting far from the screen and occasionally looking away is the best advice I can offer to combat this. It's not as bad here as in films with a more aggressively moving and shaking camera.)
A Girl Like Her opens with the attempted suicide of Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth). The pills she swallows leave her comatose. As the story unfolds through hidden camera footage and interviews conducted by documentary filmmaker Amy Gallagher (Weber), we learn that Jessica was the victim of a relentless campaign of bullying carried out by her former best friend, Avery Keller (Hunter King). With Amy lying unresponsive in a hospital bed, the story shifts to Avery and reveals a dysfunctional home life and overbearing mother. In a departure from a typical narrative about bullying, A Girl Like Her makes the effort to explore Avery's mindset rather than present her as one-dimensional villain.
The bullying comes, as is the case with most real life incidents, as an injury of a thousand cuts rather than a single, traumatic incident. Avery's abuse is more psychological than physical - she threatens Jess frequently but her actions rarely go beyond a push or a trip - but it has the desired effect and takes its toll. With the omnipresence of text messaging, Jess doesn't have a respite when she leaves school for the day. The bullying accompanies her everywhere even when Avery isn't near. It's the constancy more than the virulence that wears Jess down. Weber presents this with intelligence and sensitivity.
The two leads - Lexi Ainsworth as Jess and Hunter King as Avery - provide compelling portraits of teenagers on opposite sides of the bullying. Ainsworth, whose resume includes a stint on General Hospital, shows the gradual psychological deterioration of Jess as the bullying mounts. King, also a soap opera veteran, offers a portrait of a girl who's oblivious to the trauma her actions are causing. Some of the supporting performances aren't as impressive, including an over-the-top portrayal by Christy Engle as Avery's controlling mother. The role doesn't call for subtlety and Engle doesn't deliver it.
Unlike the documentary Bully, A Girl Like Her didn't cause a ratings controversy. The most objectionable language is censored, allowing the movie to obtain a PG-13. This will allow the target demographic - adolescents either faced with bullying or possible witnesses to it - to see the movie. The way in which it is presented, the verisimilitude of the situations and characters, and the immediacy of the production may reach them in a way that a more polished film wouldn't. For older viewers, the movie works both as a cautionary tale and a drama. Weber has a message; the effectiveness with which it is delivered captures our attention.
© 2015 James Berardinelli