Review ‘Billion Dollar Bully’

Billion Dollar Bully (2019), directed by Kaylie Milliken, is a documentary film about Yelp, the review platform.   The film shines a light on its alleged business practices and the concerns of small business owners who say it’s nothing more than an extortion scheme.  Milliken has woven together many visual elements to create a compelling film where profit meets misery and exploitation against the landscape of American capitalism and the legal system.

Milliken shines a light on the outrage Yelp has sparked with business owners whose extortion claims against the company have no legal remedy.  The film includes interviews with a distinguished cast of professionals who weigh-in and present a multiplicity of takes and viewpoints on Yelp and its business model.  The film documents the aggressive tactics employed by Yelp salespeople to get businesses to purchase advertising, the Yelp Elite Squad, and the inability of business owners to opt-out of Yelp.

The documentary is well-crafted making use of diverse angle shots, editing techniques, first-person interviews, third-person interviews, archival footage, still photography, animation, and incorporates footage shot over an extended period of time to present an engaging documentary on the alleged business practices of a billion-dollar company and how its business practices have shaped the lives of small business owners.

Milliken uses interstitial titles (What is Yelp?,  How does Yelp advertising work?, Yelp’s Marketing Model, Can business owners remove themselves from Yelp?, Yelp can list a business on its site without the owner’s consent., etc.) to structure her film and provide context.  Milliken juxtaposes the outrage of business owners against the alleged business practices of Yelp. The motif of outrage runs through the film which stitches the film into a cohesive structure.

If you want to understand what’s really going on with Yelp and its business model, see the documentary which will serve an excellent primer.  It’s an insightful documentary that demystifies the inner workings of Yelp which has relied on archival footage, third-person interviews, and the lived experiences of business owners and raises the question of whether Yelp, under the present circumstances, can really call itself a review platform.

It gives voice to the concerns of small business owners who have been adversely affected by the Yelp business model and documents the constructive ways some business owners have found a way to challenge Yelp.  The film serves as a cautionary tale not only for Yelp but for all companies to review their business practices.   There’s no escaping a bad review even for a billion-dollar company.  The documentary has tremendous educational appeal and can be used as a vehicle to promote social awareness.

Billion Dollar Bully screened at  Devour! The Food Film Fest