What happens when your brain turns you against the substances your body needs to survive? Eating disorders cause years of strife for those afflicted, and left untreated, result in death. Around eight million people in the United States alone suffer from eating disorders. Yet, there are nearly zero films tackling the subject. To an extent, that’s understandable. It’s tricky, sensitive subject matter. On the other hand, there is power in art. And a film that realistically depicts the struggles of eating disorders just might save lives.
Synopsis: Ellen is an unruly 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. Determined to find a solution, her dysfunctional family agrees to send her to a group home for youths, which is led by a non-traditional doctor. Surprised by the unusual rules, Ellen must discover for herself how to confront her addiction and attempt self-acceptance. (Netflix)
Starring: Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, and Leslie Bibb
Writer: Marti Noxon
Director: Marti Noxon
Running Time: 107mins
Based on a fictionalized account of writer/director Marti Noxon’s struggle with anorexia nervosa, To The Bone is a step in the right direction. The film addresses the topic of eating disorders with a raw honesty. It’s bold filmmaking, and is sure to make audiences uncomfortable in a necessary way. The characters are mean and constantly have their guard up. But the film also realizes the characters don’t like being who they are either. The entire piece is the journey of these characters from self-hatred to self-acceptance, and ultimately wanting to change. The importance of that message cannot be overstated.
Furthermore, it is bolstered by some pretty great performances. Lily Collins continues to be one of the best actresses of her generation. Ellen is a complicated character, and while the full reasons for her eating disorder are never revealed, they always feel just beneath the surface. She carries the weight of the film, and even when the script fails her, she puts up good work. Newcomer Alex Sharp also shows considerable chops as Ellen’s love interest, Luke. Sadly, the character is atrociously written, and his motivations are wildly out of place. Finally, Keanu Reeves continues a string of late-career greatness as Dr. Beck. He portrays Beck with a compassion for his patients rarely seen by onscreen doctors.
Unfortunately, a few solid performances can’t save the script. For the first hour, the film moves through this strange world of inpatient facilities, point systems, and family therapy sessions with ease and honesty. And then, in its home stretch, the film leans hard on platitudes and the need for resolution above all else. The final result seems like merely a facade rather than anything of substance. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t value in the first hour. It was definitely an eye opener to a world that many may not know. Without discrediting the experiences of those struggling with these diseases, the film’s messiness and realism leaves viewers feeling everything is too neat and tidy.
When it’s all said and done, To The Bone is admirable in its ability to be honest about eating disorders. Unfortunately, it devolves into a need for a bow to be tied on everything. And that may have worked, but the way in which Ellen finds her “rock bottom” is overly-surreal. It’s a sequence that comes out of left field and doesn’t resemble anything that came before. To The Bone takes cynical characters and makes them choose optimism. That’s great, but the path it takes to get there is frustrating. Though, if the film helps one person struggling with an eating disorder to seek help, then it’s worth existing.
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