Destined to be one of the most powerful films nobody sees in 2015

by Steve Pulaski

Amy S. Weber’s A Girl Like Her is destined to be one of the most powerful films nobody sees in 2015, and that is a troubling thing. Considering it’s a film about bullying in high school, and so many organizations and awareness groups have pushed bullying up to the forefront of issues in schools, the fact that A Girl Like Her enters theatrical distribution concerning that issue in an unadulterated, raw form and has received no publicity is something I cannot understand. The fact that its theatrical gross won’t come close to that of The DUFF, this year’s other teen film that just masquerades in its own artificiality and silliness, is another thing that angers me.

This is a film that needs to be seen and discussed, and that’s not something I demand often after seeing a film. Even after gathering my thoughts on A Girl Like Her, a film that shook me on a subject I’m normally not very shaken by, I hold by my thoughts that the importance of this film is immense. Through its portrayal of bullying, the effects on the victim, the effects on the bullier, and the effects on the friends and family of the victim, writer/directress Weber leaves no opportunity to humanize or explore unturned. She makes sure that by the end of the film, if you can believe it, we can sympathize with the bullier in a way that’s comparative to that of the victim.

We open by seeing Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth), a high school sophomore who is lonely and ostracized, clinging to her only friend Brian Slater (Jimmy Bennett), who comforts her emotionally. Jessica has been a social pariah ever since her once best friend Avery Keller (Hunter King, who looks like a young Reese Witherspoon and mirrors her talent as well) became her worst nightmare. Following the common drift that eventually happens with old friendships, Avery turned into a nasty, physically and emotionally abusive soul, taunting Jessica through hallway conversations, passive-aggressive altercations, and vile text messages and emails demanding she simply kill herself. One day, Jessica decides to take her advice, swallowing an entire bottle of pills and landing herself in a coma.

A Girl Like Her
Written & Directed by
Amy S. Weber
Lexi Ainsworth, Hunter King, Jimmy Bennett
Release Date
27 March 2015
Steve’s Grade: A+

What nobody but Jessica and Brian know is that they have records of all of Avery’s vicious bullying thanks to a small, pin-sized camera that Jessica would attach to her blouse every day. These records, among many different testimonies from parents, teachers, and students alike, come about when a documentary crew visiting the school works to examine your typical American high school. The film is shot partly with a found footage aspect, mostly during the bullying scenes, and partly in the mockumentary filmic style. The style here is a tremendous asset, as it provides the film with a whole new layer of authenticity and naturalism. The videography isn’t nauseating, but all too real, and the actors at hand play the naturalistic element so well that the style at hand can work germane to something in the film.

One of the many incredible things Weber does with A Girl Like Her is she doesn’t segregate her focus; she’s too smart to stick to Jessica and Brian’s side of the story whilst ignoring Avery’s. The latter half of the film focuses on Avery’s homelife, with a homemaker, dictative mother, a passive father, and a closeted older brother, all of which alienating her and providing her with demands and expectations she cannot fulfill and, more importantly, doesn’t want to. Combine that with friends loyal because of their mutual possessions and heavy bank accounts, and you have a girl who is mean and nasty because she simply doesn’t have any true people in her life she can connect to – and the one she had has now become her worst enemy. King portrays this character with unbelievable conviction, especially with a performance so early in her career. She’s venomous and thoroughly contemptible, but does it with the makeup-heavy eyes, the sarcastic mannerisms, and the irritable behavior and conduct of a bratty high school teenager that actually exists. King’s portrayal of Avery doesn’t feel cookie-cutter to other portrayals of high school bullies; it feels meaner and rawer, and that’s the essence of A Girl Like Her.

Weber also shows how Jessica’s suicide attempt and subsequent coma effect everyone around her. In the real world, news reports show us the hysteria of the situation, interviewing parents for a few seconds expressing their sorrow and having principals and faculty of schools spit out their own testimonies, which now seem like they were chosen from a manufactured list of responses. We see Jessica’s parents sobbing by her bedside, struggling to regain the footing they need to stay strong for Jessica’s younger sister, and their own personal cries for help all portrayed in a way that’s revealing and human. Weber doesn’t pull emotionally manipulative tactics, making us cry over broad circumstances and ideas instead of specific moments, and if she does, she gives scenarios development to make them that way.

A Girl Like Her is an uncommonly raw picture; a film that comes out of nowhere (I had no knowledge of its existence until about a day and a half ago) and packs an unexpected sucker-punch. While other films love to paint teenagers in broadstrokes and narrow-minded generalizations, A Girl Like Her paints specifics in its characters. Out of everything, Weber’s biggest accomplishment is not only attempting to make the vile bully of the film somewhat sympathetic and understandable in the end, but succeeding at that, providing the film with one of many different perspectives to examine bullying through.

A Girl Like Her is one of the first films on bullying to go beyond sloganeering and emotionally manipulative scenarios. The much-anticipated, highly-publicized documentary Bully in 2011, while effective on some levels, left audience with little insight into the bulliers. A Girl Like Her explores the situation on all fronts; it’s the first film of 2015 you owe yourself to see.