In recent years, the link between bullying and suicide has become much more prominent, and our country’s awareness of these unfortunate circumstances has risen as well. For those unaware of how large the problem’s become check out these stats. According to bullyingstatistics.org, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people, totaling around 4,400 per year. Over 14 percent of high school students have contemplated, while 7 percent have actually attempted. In regards to bullying, victims are two to nine times as likely to consider than non-victims, 30 percent of students are either bullies or bullied, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day due to fear of bullying. These are just some reasons why when my friend and aspiring actor Jacob Robbins came to me to watch an indie short he was a part of called Teens Like Phil, I was all over it.
Teens Like Phil is an indie drama short, around 20 minutes long, that takes a look at teenager Phil (Adam Donovan) and the struggles he faces with adolescence, family, private school, and most of all, his sexuality. Every day Phil attends his elite private school, only to be routinely bullied by his once best friend and love interest, Adam (Robbins). At school, Adam takes every chance he can get to lash out and humiliate Phil, whether it’s writing “FAG!” on his locker in permanent marker or blindfolding him while their gym class is showering in the locker room. Phil feels completely alone now that his best friend has become his worst enemy, and his parents just make it worse by being oblivious to his issues and questioning his masculinity. However, as fate would have it, Phil isn’t the only one with recurring problems on his plate.
Adam is no stranger to physical abuse or issues at home. He regularly finds himself falling victim to his older brother Nick (Collin Leydon), and the punishments he dishes out in the form of fists and forcing Adam to wear lipstick. Rather than face these demons, Adam channels his anger and humiliation towards Phil, subconsciously choosing to continue the vicious cycle that hits home for many teenagers. As the torture from Adam’s brother gets worse, so does the recoil onto Phil, climaxing in an assault that will never leave either of them the same.
Structurally, the 20 minutes are plotted extremely well. Once directors Dominic Haxton and David Rosler introduce the current situation of where Phil and Adam stand, they bring in flashbacks of how the two came to be caught up in this whirlwind, strategically starting during a writing assignment Phil works on about a point in his life that was influenced by his past and has affected his future. Time rewinds and we find out that the two boys did have some romantic attraction, but when Adam acts on it and kisses him, Phil runs away. A hurricane of emotion clearly rages within Adam built from getting picked on by his brother, Phil’s reaction, and his own problem with accepting who he is.
As emotional and eye-opening as the story itself are Robbins and Donovan, who give performances worthy of a feature film. Robbins’ ability to portray a range of emotions is perfect for Adam, as we see him in various situations that demand varying feelings. When he and Phil are friends he’s sociable, bright and happy, but when he’s attacked by his brother he delivers defensiveness and fear, then when he’s bullying Phil he’s heartless, angry and ruthless. Despite Phil being the focus, it’s hard not to sympathize with Adam based on the job Robbins does portraying him.
Donovan had quite the task as well, needing to insert an immense emotional charge into Phil. The fear, sadness and loneliness that constantly plague him are nearly always evident, but there’s no question that at the end when he’s describing what it feels like to be brutally bullied, the scene could bring anyone to tears.
The harsh realities of bullying and suicide are displayed perfectly through the relationship of these two young men. It completely exceeded what I expected, not only by trying to raise awareness in a rewarding way, but through clever storytelling and characters that might just make you think twice before you judge or bully somebody.
As I mentioned, Teens Like Phil is an indie project and has just recently finished its festival run. There is a short trailer on YouTube or Vimeo, but you can also request a download from the directors by finding it on newfilmmakersonline.com. Robbins did notify me that they are currently working on making it open to the public online.