A girl like her is a fictional documentary about bullying in an American school. This documentary was very highly praised and is used for educational purposes in some schools so I thought I would check it out.
The style was a mixture of documentary footage, hidden camera footage and Avery, the bully’s vlogs. It used this mix of footage types to show the effects of bullying on the character Jess, showing her life during the bullying and the aftermath of her suicide attempt as well as Avery’s side of the story. The style makes it really realistic and relatable which is why I think it’s probably so acclaimed.
It also means that every interview and shot is carefully selected and edited to illustrate a point. I had to keep this in mind while watching it so I could form a critical opinion on its accuracy and what it was saying.
The opening scene is a compilation of shots of Jess, filmed by Brian which is really personal and sweet. It makes you relate to Jess and start to understand their relationship. It shows Jess really happy and smiling with her friend. After the title screen, it cuts to a first person camera view of Jess walking around her room
The go pro footage of picking up meds and objects makes you engaged, as if it’s you walking around, doing these things. I really like explanation of camera working and capturing what’s going to happen to her contrasted with a moment she probably doesn’t want people to see. A first person perspective of a suicide attempt is very powerful imagery.
The radio talks about how idyllic the school, it sets up the story to prove it wrong. The documentary crew come in to start doing interviews about the school when they get the news of Jess’ suicide attempt.
The do some interesting interviews with people who knew her but not well. It was like seeing her life from the outside. It begins to set up Avery and her friends as the probable cause of what drove Jess to attempt suicide.
The documentary crew ask Avery to do some video diaries to show what her life is like. Showing Avery’s vlogs really humanises her which confronts the image of bullies we have been given, they they are demonic, bad people who ruin lives. She sees herself as a regular girl and although she isn’t trying to make her peers commit suicide, that’s what it leads to
The teachers talk about their struggle with dealing with bullying is something that was a really good point to bring to light. Many teachers have a really hard time trying to get to the root of bullying and trying to stop it happening. This was followed by countless kids saying they wouldn’t help her or do anything is shocking, but also a very common opinion. These two perspectives show that the problem is systemic and is so much bigger than just kids bullying each other.
It’s really interesting to me how they showed Avery’s mother blaming the coach for her daughter not getting onto a sports team when the coach’s reasoning was Avery was a bully. If the mother is going to blame other people then how can Avery confront that she is the problem and her actions are harmful?
Avery’s mother obviously has an image to uphold that she holds her whole family to. This can be seen in the horrifically awkward dinner scene where she tries to show how functional, happy and conversational they are. Avery’s family is obviously not functional and the mother spends a lot of time acting very ‘Oh woe is me’ because the rest of the family don’t want to go along with her theatrics for the camera.
Seeing Jess’ best friend open up about the footage was interesting, these kids decided there was no one who could help them so they took things into their own hands and documented what was going on for 6 months because they felt there was no way to immediately stop it. I’m confused as to why she agreed to document it but didn’t want anyone to see it. There’s no purpose towards correcting the problem.
I find the fake glitches in the footage quite annoying and unrealistic because Brian is shown to have a good quality camera and when it’s simply sat on a desk recording, it’s unlikely to glitch the footage so severely.
Avery’s nasty side is revealed, in a huge wave of her hate speech and physical violence. It all comes on in a montage of clips of her abuse of Jess over the 6 months preceding her suicide attempt. Jessica’s breakdown is an understandable reaction and I kind of felt really attacked just by watching it. It highlights how trapped she felt and how she had no way out that she could see but suicide
There’s a quick interjection asking about manipulation of the footage which seems kinda pointless, it doesn’t really add much.
The PTA meeting was a really interesting point to show how people are butting heads trying to find a solution to bullying. The parent who mentions helping the mental health of the bullies is spot on.
The film takes another moment to show Avery’s home life to remind us that she is troubled and human.
The film does a good job of expressing the involuntary vow of silence that kids take on this issue. Through Jess herself, Brian not saying anything but desperately wanting to, Avery’s friends and the other bystanders at school.
Avery’s relentless denial of her actions is both frustrating and powerful to watch. Again, the mother steps in to play the victim card on her daughter’s behalf. Her judgement is so clouded. She even goes as far to say it’s all Jessica’s fault, which of course, it isn’t Slowly, Avery is made to realise that it was her actions that lead to this and although it wasn’t her intention, it still happened because of her.
The character of the interviewer here is very interesting, she is not judgemental or rude towards Avery, she is very understanding, gentle, caring. She asks about Avery’s mental well-being and is genuinely concerned for her at the same time as wanting to show her how damaging her actions have been. I think this is a really effective method to helping Avery reach this realisation. Because the interviewer is not abrasive, Avery doesn’t feel the need to be defensive and she is open to what the interviewer is saying. Avery reflects this in her vlog after this interaction and how the interviewer has made her feel supported as well as getting her the help she needs to atone for her actions.
Before Avery sits down to watch the footage of the bullying, her mother comes along with another narcissistic interjection about how no one can support Avery but her. Most people who hold opinions like this are not trusted advisers because they only want to help you to boost their own ego. Whilst I do believe Avery’s mother cares for her deeply, I think most of her on screen portrayal is an act for the cameras of trying to be the perfect mother.
The shots of the vigil I found very annoying. They spent a lot of time at the beginning showing Jess’ isolation and how Brian was her only friend, everyone else barely talked to her, that is seems like they’re only there to inflate their own sense of self importance. This doesn’t add anything to the overall message other than people feel a selfish guilt for not helping her.
Interjecting Avery realising what she’s done and what is happening to Jess in the hospital feels messy to me and I think that putting them constantly contrasting in the same segment takes away from Avery’s guilt and horror at what she’s done. Again, the interviewer comes in with an astonishing support of Avery and acknowledges that it’s hard to see yourself doing such horrible things and being faced with the consequences of those things. It ends with Avery admitting she’s a bully and Jess waking up. As if Avery’s admission of guilt makes everything go away.
I thought this film was very powerful and I can understand the acclaim. My problem with it lies in the editing. The glitches were unnecessary and annoying, as well as unrealistic and there were many pointless shots and comments throughout that didn’t add to the film at all.
This film had a new take on bullying and showed how many people bully others because they have problems themselves, whether they’re concious of it or not and we need to help them as much as their victims.
I went to the site they posted at the end of the film to see what they had on there and it turned out to be two videos, one from Avery and one from Jess and Brian.
Avery’s video shows she’s in therapy and working out why she treated people the way she did. She says her story has helped others realise they’re hurting people too. There was an interesting point about how she only saw herself as a bully but now she sees it as what she DID not who she IS. Nobody told her she was wrong which was a big reason it kept going for so long. She has obviously undergone a lot of personal development and change within her, it’s very positive.
Brian and Jessica’s video shows Jess 3 months after leaving hospital. Jess realises there were so many more people who knew who she was and that she wasn’t as alone as she thought she was. Brian notes the change in Avery and how different she is now that she is in therapy, she is much nicer.
I found Jess’ perspective interesting but kind of not as necessary as Avery’s because everyone knows the victims story, they get therapy and they live with it.
After watching these videos I went to look at the website for the film.
The have a page showing that this film and the other things they provide are used in the community as a resource for parents, teachers and students alike. The whole site heavily promotes collective group action and says that with this systemic problem, we need to come together for a solution.
I think this is a film that could really make a difference and change the way we approach bullying in schools. It could really benefit a lot of people and help form the solution to this age old problem.