When We Were Bullies

Documentary

Directed By: Jay Rosenblatt

Where i Watched it: HBO MAX

English Audio Description Available?: Yes

Narration By: Kelly Brennan

The Plot: A filmmaker recounts a memory from his childhood when he and his classmates violently attacked and bullied one of their classmates. his revelations led him to make a documentary.

What Works: Well, this is an Oscar nominated documentary short, and I gotta say, why? I guess I should say something positive about this film, and I’m glad that the people who were shitty kids grew up to not be shitty people and be able to reflect on their past mistakes. But alleviating your guilt through the Oscars is not going to endear me to your plight.

What Doesn’t Work: I actually misunderstood this film entirely, and I thought this was a guy who was bullied confronting those who bullied him back in the day. i didn’t know this was so self serving, and it made me unable to connect or care about the filmmaker. If he was intending to make something personal as an apology, perhaps he shouldn’t be chasing an Oscar? Basing your entire film around ths time you and your classmates beat someone up, but now you reflect back on it like “man, why did we do that? Let’s make a film about it.” It just doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m annoyed that this was nominated. I’m annoyed this exists. No one cares about the guilt you walk around with, and you don’t get to make a film about it. No one would watch a film about a guy who was a drunk driver and ran over some kid, but now he’s making a film because he’s super sorry about it. No one would want to see a film from a mass shooter about his deep regrets. I don’t know why people think we’re at a point where these types of mea culpas even need to exist, let alone the implication that there’s an audience for this. On top of that, we nominated this for an Oscar? Thank God it didn’t win.

As someone who was on the other side of this during my school career, if one of my bullies had made a documentary about some time he beat me up, and was telling everyone that he was really sad about it, and got some other classmates to express regret, then that classmate of mine submitted it for Oscar consideration and got a nomination, I’d be pretty pissed.

The Blind Perspective: Yes, there’s audio description on this, though it basically just fills in whenever the narration isn’t doing the work. This film is set up mostly as a first hand account by the filmmaker, so there’s a heavy amount of built in narration as it is as he relays how super sorry he is, and there’s a substantial amount of interviews mixed in. So the narration just connects a few dots. It helps the film, but I think people would be able to follow this either way. However, I do appreciate the narration here as I most recently sat through Apollo 10 1/2 A Space Age Childhood, another film that relies heavily on narration, and that film didn’t do as good as filling in the gaps not in the narration. I’d rather have this narration than the other. I’d rather know more about the film than less.

Final Thoughts: I’m finding it hard to analyze whether or not this documentary as it is actually is quality because I’m so turned off by the subject matter and approach. It’s like I can’t even begin to attempt to appreciate this on any level because i fundamentally disagree with its existence, and its point of view. Perhaps to some who are able to look at this more objectively, they can find value in this, but I wish this never existed. It’s very much a personal preference, and based on my own life and how I would react if someone had made this about me. And the fact that this self serving nonsense ended up getting this “reformed bully” an Oscar nomination just puts me over the edge.

Final Grade: F

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