Bully For You

Disagreement about the ways we treat other people is always a fertile starting point when it comes to writing. After all, mistreatment leads to conflict, and conflict leads to interesting stories. What is the appropriate response when you feel you're on the receiving end of bullying? Or what if that accusation is leveled at you? Those kinds of stories don't necessarily have to be a bummer; they can be comedic or dramatic, and I've run across one of each recently.

The comedy was the 2014 movie Neighbors, which I'd heard a lot of good things about. It stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as a married couple with a newborn who are horrified when a loud, partying frat house led by Zac Efron moves in next door. Though they initially try to be friendly, the relationship soon devolves, and the threats and pranks begin to escalate. I can offer no higher praise for this movie than by saying both my boyfriend and I really liked it. We never agree on movies! I'm not going to sit here and deconstruct the jokes, since there's no faster way to ruin them, but I can tell you that this is an incredibly fun, fast-paced movie. Not only do the lead actors bring it (more on one of them in a moment), but there are great guest turns from Lisa Kudrow and Jason Mantzoukas as well.

OK, back to that lead actor. Namely, Rose Byrne. Holy shit, does she steal this movie. The writing definitely helps her, because far from being the shrill nag trying to rein in her husband's wacky schemes (like the character would be in any other movie of this type), she's as game for hijinx as he is. Byrne has played a lot of icy and controlled characters, and it is just a total blast to watch her cut loose here.

Some of the scenes fall a little flat (as pot legalization becomes more of a reality, pot jokes become lamer), but overall, this was a funny move that definitely earns its reputation as one of the better comedies of last year.

The dramatic story was from Amanda Maciel's 2014 novel, Tease. It's told from the point of view of Sara, a high school girl who has been charged (along with some of her friends) of bullying Emma, a fellow classmate, into suicide. Good God, am I glad that social media didn't exist when I was in high school. Anyhoo, Sara is now a total pariah, and as she prepares for trial, she tries to reconcile her complicated feelings about her life and the one that has been prematurely snuffed out.

The internet moves with lightning speed when there's something to be outraged about, and Tease is all about the supposition that no matter how black and white things look nowadays, it's all just varying shades of gray. That's an admirable goal, but the book can't quite pull it off. At the end, neither Sara nor Emma's life has undergone anything but surface examination, so the tragic chain of events is basically just...some unfortunate stuff that happened. I'm not asking that every fictional book about bullies end with the perpetrator making a big Life Change after learning an Important Lesson, but I do need to feel something more towards the characters than irritation.

Neighbors: A-
Tease: B-


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