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"A GIRL LIKE HER"
(2015) (Hunter King, Lexi Ainsworth) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: As a documentary film crew captures their words and mindset, family members, friends and classmates react to the attempted suicide by a high school sophomore who's been bullied and harassed by her former friend.
PLOT:
South Brookdale High School has just been named one of the best in the country, and thus Amy Gallagher (AMY S. WEBER) has arrived there with a film crew to document what makes the school so special. As they're about to begin, however, one of the students, sophomore Jessica Burns (LEXI AINSWORTH), tries to kill herself. She ends up in a coma, much to the dismay of her parents, Gerald (MARK BOYD) and Margarete (STEPHANIE COTTON), and best friend, Brian Slater (JIMMY BENNETT).

Knowing what Jessica was going through, Brian proposed that she wear a secret spy camera to record the daily bullying and harassment she was experiencing at the hands of her former friend turned tormentor, Avery Keller (HUNTER KING). With Amy interviewing everyone involved, including Principal Richard Harris (MICHAEL MAURICE), the extent of Avery's treatment of Jessica comes to light, as does Avery's home life with parents Kassie (CHRISTY ENGLE) and David (JON W. MARTIN) and older brother, Josh (GINO BORRI) -- all as the comatose student fights for her life and others express their concern and outrage over bullying at the school.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Considering that much of the animal world operates under the pecking order regime, it's no surprise that humans ended up doing the same, or that we've yet to evolve from that very primitive, if natural, hierarchy.

Of course, for the rest of the animal world, that revolves around maintaining and protecting one's territory as well as giving said critter the best chance to mate, reproduce and thus keep things moving down the gene line.

That's what makes human bullying -- especially among kids -- all the more perplexing, frustrating and, for the victims and those who love them, exasperating and terrifying. I was bullied as a kid all those decades ago, although that was mostly relegated to my middle school years and not so much, if at all, from ninth grade and upward.

Nowadays, that later age group seems to be the hotbed of bullying, and that's the focus and setting of "A Girl Like Her." Filmed in a faux documentary meets regular drama style, the story -- penned by director Amy S. Weber who also plays the rarely seen documentarian in the pic -- revolves around the aftermath of a bullied high school sophomore's suicide attempt.

Most everyone -- from her parents (Mark Boyd and Stephanie Cotton) to the school's principal (Michael Maurice) is shocked by that turn of events and didn't see it coming. But her best and seemingly only friend (Jimmy Bennett) knew things were so bad that he convinced the girl (convincingly played by Lexi Ainsworth) to wear a camouflaged spy camera and capture the harassment doled out onto her by the bully (Hunter King).

That footage occasionally pops up, not so much to create a non-linear storytelling narrative, but rather to show the hell the poor girl was going through. But the story takes the somewhat unusual approach of telling the side of the bully, whether that's just her on-camera observations about her life (with that reality starting to crumble as things progress) or her interaction with her highly dysfunctional family and especially her overbearing mom (Christy Engle).

While a line spoken at an assembly about those who are hurt ending up doling out hurt on others is a bit of hammer on the head overkill, that theme is otherwise played out convincingly. What isn't, though, is the fake documentary format. I can buy the presence of the hidden camera footage, but I just couldn't swallow the ever-present film crew being allowed throughout the school hallways, in the bully's home, or at the hospital where the parents think their daughter might not ever come out of a coma, let alone live.

Besides making me want to barf from all of the up, down, left and right camera movement, such footage feels forced and faked. For one, it's highly unlikely the crew would be allowed such access. And it's doubtful those involved would open up like they do to or otherwise simply in front a bunch of strangers capturing their every, and, quite possibly, incriminating word. I get that people enjoy watching so-called reality TV at home, but it never works in a convincing fashion here and does nothing for the overall pic.

Otherwise, the performances are strong, the film hits some deserved deep emotional moments with aplomb, and the subject matter is definitely timely and something that needs to be addressed. If anything, "A Girl Like Her" should be required viewing in high schools around the nation to address this issue that should have long ago gone the way of primitively spraying to mark one's territory. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed March 26, 2015 / Posted March 27, 2015


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