The first thing one needs to know about A Girl Like Me is that in order to get anything out of the film one must accept a premise that is at times pretty far-fetched. It uses the documentary format to help unfold its narrative. And, while the approach is generally effective and ultimately allows for a powerful climax, it bends the "rules" usually associated with a documentary by giving the viewer access to situations a true documentary wouldn't have been able to provide. If you get hung up on these narrative sidesteps, you will miss the bigger points the film is trying to make.
A Girl Like Me tackles one of the hot button issues of the day: bullying. A teenage girl, Jessica Burns, is relentlessly bullied at school and finally attempts suicide to escape her fear and pain. Her chief tormentor, Avery Keller, comes across as the typical popular mean girl whose taunts and harassment take the form of direct hallway confrontations and social media assaults.
Given this description, the film sounds little better than a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. What elevates it though are two very good central performances by the lead actresses and how the narrative technique eventually allows the director, Amy S. Weber, to make some very powerful points about the origins and ramifications of high school bullying. These two qualities allow the film to avoid becoming just an issue movie full of empty sentiment and no point of view to offer.
I can't say too much about the latter without ruining the film, but I can say that Weber uses the documentary format to show a potential way of dealing with the bullying crisis, one that might actually work in ways that school policies and rhetoric have failed. She doesn't so much offer a prescribed method of solution as she illuminates an approach to the problem that refuses to reduce either party to a stereotype or two-dimensional figure. How that is accomplished in the film is one of the most powerful parts of its story, so I will say no more about it.
As for the performances, Lexi Ainsworth and Hunter King as Jessica and Avery respectively portray their characters with an emotional authenticity that one wouldn't necessarily expect from actresses so young. Although slightly older than their characters, both actresses embody real teenagers, the kind I feel like could be in my classroom and probably have been. At no point does either performance have a false note or a moment that doesn't quite work, and you are drawn in by them as the story unfolds in the choppy, rough cut documentary format.
I found this movie, like I have so many others, by chance on Netflix. At a running time of about 91 minutes, it's a quick viewing, but I have been thinking about it all day. I am curious to know what other people think, so I hope you watch it and feel inclined to comment.