#NoJoke review: new documentary follows anti-bullying song efforts

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Andrew Cole tries to put together a song to fight bullying – and #NoJoke follows that effort.

#NoJoke chronicles musician Andrew Cole’s quest to convince musical icons to join him in recording a song to fight bullying. While this sounds cliched and overdone, it takes surprising turns as it explores what really makes a bully. Featuring 2D-animated flashbacks as Liverpool-born Cole details his own experiences in school, he explores the feelings he had before starting the project: “I’m nobody; who cares what I say?”

With all the hate in the world and staggering statistics showing 50% of youth suicides are related to bullying, Cole decides to “write a song to change the world”. Fearing no one will listen to his message, he attempts to get as many of his musical icons on it as possible and, living in LA, he knows where to find them. Some of the measures he goes to feel invasive, faking his way into Chateau Marmont or hitching a ride in the passenger seat of paparazzi, but he’s aware of this fact – they’re just short experiments on a bigger journey.

Cole explains how some celebrities he encounters are closed off, they question who he is, what charity or organisation is behind the project. To which he rebuts, “I don’t know all that stuff, I just want to save the world.” You can forgive them for their caution – on the surface he’s just a guy trying to get his favourite musicians to sing with him – but perhaps that’s the view of a cynic.

Where Cole’s journey goes next is worth leaving the cynicism at the door for. Whilst the first act of #NoJoke shows Cole on his hunt for supporters, the second takes an introspective look at his own journey with bullying. His childhood tormentor is a looming presence throughout as he attempts to get in contact with him. We’re at first unsure if Cole wants to confront him, demand an apology, gain closure or perhaps all three. Thus, it begins to feel like a personal exercise for the musician, an attempt at catharsis of his own demons.

#NoJoke doesn’t condemn bullies, rather it attempts to open up conversation. It explores how fear divides us into the powerful and the powerless, as Cole observes classes and speaks with psychologists. What began as a documentary about a song becomes a compelling, thoughtful film about empathy.

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