"Bully" has seized the spotlight courtesy of Harvey Weinstein and the MPAA, but neither was in evidence at the film's premiere on Monday night at the Chinese 6 in Hollywood.
Joel McHale, Julianna Rancic and Victoria Justice were the hosts; a number of familiar faces, including Gillian Jacobs, Jason Isaacs, Aisha Tyler, Josie Loren, Sierra McCormick and Diane Warren, were in attendance; and the film's director, Lee Hirsch, did most of the talking.
But Weinstein was still in New York, where he'd attended the GLAAD Awards on Sunday to present a special award to Katy Butler, who'd started an online petition aimed at getting the film's R rating changed. (Pictured above: Director Lee Hirsch, right, with subjects from the film, at the premiere.)
And the controversy over the MPAA branding the film with that rating, which led to weeks of complaints by Weinstein and almost half a million signatures on Butler's change.org petition, was never even mentioned.
The only time the rating even got a passing nod came in what was clearly an old trailer prepared by the premiere's sponsor, the search engine Bing. At one point it included a user looking at info about "Bully" on a computer screen – where, if you looked closely, the listing said the film was rated PG-13. At the end of the trailer came an outdated line: "This film is not yet rated."
"Bully" was rated, and given that R for half a dozen F-words, but the Weinstein Company announced on Monday that it will ignore that rating and release the film unrated.
Also read: Weinstein Company Loses "Bully Rating Appeal
But the clear message on Monday night was that while the tussle with the ratings board might be infuriating, the important issues are the ones that take place in schools around the country, not in an MPAA boardroom in the valley.
"Bully," which the Weinstein Company bought last April before it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a wrenching look at how bullying turns every trip to school into a nightmare for millions of kids, and how relentless mistreatment has driven children to suicide.
Originally titled "The Bully Project," the film was renamed and its release delayed until 2012, where it comes on the heels of another high-profile Weinstein Company documentary, "Undefeated," winning the Oscar.
The premiere was introduced by a Bing spokesperson and by its three hosts, of whom Joel McHale delivered the best of the opening remarks. After pointing out that 13 million kids are bullied every day, he introduced director Hirsch with some self-deprecating comments: "I stand around and make fun of hillbilly handfishing and toddlers in tiaras, but someone like Lee Hirsch, he's doing the Lord's work."
McHale also predicted a box-office milestone of sorts for the doc: "It may not beat 'The Hunger Games' when it comes out, but it's definitely going to beat 'John Carter.'"
He paused, and scanned the audience. "Sorry to the Disney executives who are here."
Hirsch described the scene – a packed house at a Hollywood premiere – as "really weird" for a documentary filmmaker, and said it was evidence that the issue matters.
"This is the tipping point," he predicted, before calling for lots of tweets on Tuesday, which is anti-bullying day on Twitter. (#bullymovie is the appropriate hashtag.)
(Pictured: Event host, actress Victoria Justice.)
A post-screening Q&A focused on grassroots and social-media efforts to end bullying, but its real stars were two students who are seen in the film being bullied, and the parents of another child who committed suicide after relentless bullying.
Tina Long, whose son Tyler killed himself in 2009, offered the night's most wrenching comment in response to a question about whether the bullied kids and the families had gotten to the point where they could forgive their tormentors.
After the two kids said that they had, Long took the microphone.
"Our son isn't here," she said flatly. "I haven't even gotten over that, much less gotten to the point where I can forgive anybody."
And while the ratings controversy didn't come up during the discussion, several viewers mentioned it on their way out of the theater – mostly to wonder why the film could possibly warrant an R. The bulk of the offending words come in one early scene of school-bus bullying, where the language is entirely appropriate to get across the toxic atmosphere for bullied kids.
After sitting through the tough and powerful film, many viewers said they couldn't even remember hearing the language responsible for the R.
'I just don't get it," said one. "I'm baffled."