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Emotional anti-bullying message fuels 'Girl Like Her'

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Bolstered by a strong young cast and a nice perspective on a too-familiar problem — bullying — "A Girl Like Her" is unavoidably emotional and topical.

Writer-director Amy S. Weber is working in faux documentary territory here from a couple of angles. Right off we meet teen friends Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth) and Brian (Jimmy Bennett) and find that he has designed a remote camera that she can wear as a pin; what they're hoping to take pictures of is unclear.

Both kids attend a high school that has just been judged one of the best in the nation. As a result a documentary camera crew is set to begin filming a movie on campus. The day before the filmmakers arrive, Jessica attempts suicide.

The news of her attempt — which has put her in a coma — sends shocks through the school and suddenly the planned documentary takes a turn. Why would a girl like that try to kill herself?

The reason surfaces: It turns out the most popular girl in school, a blond beauty named Avery (Hunter King), a former close friend of Jessica's, has been harassing her verbally and physically for months. Relentless in her punishment and supported by a clique of mean girls, Avery has sent countless texts suggesting Jessica kill herself.

As this becomes clear — and that clarity becomes increasingly disturbing — Weber does a smart thing: She makes the movie about the cool-on-the-surface but troubled-below Avery, focusing on the cause of bullying, not just the obvious damage.

Luckily, King is a terrific actress and she makes the pivot from monster to maimed soul work. There are no easy answers here, but there are plenty of wrenching and emotionally riveting observations.

tlong@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

'A Girl Like Her'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving teens, and for language

Running time: 132 minutes