#NOJOKE (doc, 2019)

 Greetings again from the darkness. Bullying generates insecurity, hatred, and fear. The definition of bullying can range from calling someone a derogatory name, verbally abusing them, physically intimidating them, or causing actual physical pain. It’s an abuse of power that can happen at any age and in any environment. Los Angeles-based Canadian musician Andrew Cole set out a few years ago to create an all-star anti-bullying song … something similar to what “We are the World” did for the starving people in Africa in 1985.

Mr. Cole spends much of the film’s run time on camera, and he explains his motivation for starting the project. He attended approximately 20 schools and was often the “weird” kid or “newbie”, and he believes that made him an easy target. Part of his project involves trying to track down Paul Blades, a particularly evil bully he recalls. Cole also explains how his own Dad could flip a switch from being a great guy to a terrifying presence. He refers to these memories as scar tissue. It’s at this point when we begin to question whether Cole’s project is for the greater good, or simply for his own therapy.

Some time is spent on his efforts to convince celebrities and famous musicians to jump on board. Mr. Cole mostly seems to be winging it during the early phases, almost like he expects people to jump at the chance to work with an unknown musician with no foundation or charity backing him. Cole even goes so far as to label this as a form of bullying … celebs using their power to shut down the little guy with a dream. Doors do begin to open, once Jeff Goldblum agrees to play piano on the song.

Documentarian Manfred Becker is charged with turning years of footage into something coherent for viewers. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the topic, there are segments included that appear to be there for no reason other than Cole’s ego. Specifically, a stunt at the front gate of Chateau Marmont and a ride-along with the paparazzi as they chase Harrison Ford down the street. The big news is apparently that Harrison Ford is caught texting while driving. The film is at its best when Cole is not talking, but rather letting others have their say. Watching Jane Lynch, Patrick Stewart and Michael Biehn admit to having been bullies in their younger years is powerful. Visiting Columbine High School and “the world’s worst parent”, Lenore Skenazy, is fascinating and insightful.

We are informed that 50% of youth suicides are related to bullying. Of course bullying has been a topic for generations, and it’s a topic that needs to remain in the forefront. Unfortunately, having a great idea, a great cause, or even a great song doesn’t ensure a great documentary. More research into the mentioned connection between bullying-hate crime- genocide could have elevated this look at the complex issue of the psychology of bullying. “Hurt people hurt people” (spoken by Russell Simmons) provides more insight than clips of Slash strumming a guitar. Hate, guilt, and forgiveness all play a role here and deserve more than a quick mention. Hopefully the film and Cole’s song, “Do You Think I’m a Joke?” can make a difference for the Center for Abuse Awareness.

watch the trailer:

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