A Girl Like Her is the kind of movie that only allows you to feel one way. It's about bullying, a hot topic, and suicide, a hotter one. Right away, I was squirming in my seat knowing I'd have to watch some bunny rabbit cowering in the face of a hellish bully demon. And that does happen. A Girl Like Her will make you squirm, too. And despite that, despite how self-righteous it is, and how much I despise movies telling me how to feel, I was moved by this film.
Amy S. Weber wrote and directed A Girl Like Her and she plays Amy Gallagher in the film, a documentarian filming at Brookdale High, the United States' top academic public school. But first, she introduces us to Jess (Lexi Ainsworth), a sophomore bullying victim who swallows a handful of Hydrocodone on her bathroom floor. Via a pinhole camera attached to her sweater, we witness the suicide attempt from her point of view. Immediately, Weber makes us the victim.
Then the movie cuts to another camera, shot by Jess' best friend, Brian (Jimmy Bennett). A flashback. The sheepish boy and the shy girl secretly hatch a plan: Jess will wear the tiny cam, shaped like a dragonfly, to record what she endures on a daily basis.
Another cut, and the film switches to Amy's camera as she interviews Brookdale students in the days after Jess' suicide attempt. We hear her voice out of frame ask questions and one name keeps popping up: Avery Keller. Avery (Hunter King) is the most popular girl in school and everyone knows she was the one who terrorized Jess. Amy interviews one student who compares the kids to zebras, all standing around silently watching while one of their own is eaten in front of them. Weber isn't subtle about her bully hatred.
Avery is the girl bully prototype: blonde, beautiful, and icy cold. Amy finds her at her locker surrounded by minions. She asks about Jess, but doesn't push things. Soon, Avery is recording herself on another cam at the filmmaker's request. We get to know her. She's spoiled and entitled as hell, but her home life is far from ideal and Weber blames the mother (a terrific Christy Engle) for Avery's bullying. Mom's a big mouth galoot who badgers her daughter incessantly and Avery does the same.
Weber's technique is a big reason why this movie works. Just when you think she's at a dead end, she finds a new hallway to go down. With Jess in a coma and Avery saying nothing, suddenly Brian remembers he has six months worth of bullying footage from that little pinhole cam. Now the film becomes something new. It becomes tawdry and riveting, like the checkout aisle at the supermarket. Armed with four separate streams of footage (Jess, Brian, Avery's, and her own) the director starts tying things together.
I won't ruin the details of the bullying or the ending, but it's worth noting Weber touches on a few things. The point of view cam is both a cheap and a necessary way to convey her main message—stop bullying—by forcing us to see through the victim's eyes. Plus, the way she introduces the footage, by creating a real narrative around it, forces us to invest. Yes, it's manipulative but it's also a great story. It's one thing to play me like a fiddle, just give me some characters I can care about. Weber manages that with a huge assist from a talented cast. Hunter King is a future star. Her villainous performance is a stand out. And Ainsworth impresses with a real vulnerability. This is a movie with a lot of moving parts and one very icky subject. I'm deducting points for bullying, but it's hard to deny the girls in A Girl Like Her.