To The Bone movie review: Netflix's film on anorexia has a dash of dark comedy, and lot of heart
It’s sort of strange that a subject as widespread as eating disorders doesn’t have a film built around it until now. To the Bone, directed by Marti Noxon addresses the issue as subtly and in as Sundance-friendly way as possible — making it a fairly strong recco on Netflix which snapped up the film for a giant $8 million.
The reason why I mention Sundance-friendly is that the film has all the characteristics of a film sent to the festival. An indie, with a quirky side to it, a dash of dark comedy, yet a lot of heart and also some emotional manipulation. All those elements largely work in the film’s favor as Noxon weaves an autobiographical story that feels real and honest.
We follow the young Ellen (Lily Collins) who is increasingly losing weight because of severe anorexia, and her situation is so bad she has to be admitted to a rehab to avert certain death. She has already been kicked out of other clinics before for churlish behavior and her normally poised stepmother (Carrie Preston) is beginning to lose her cool. Ellen is then sent to the psychiatrist Dr Beckham (Keanu Reeves) who has an unusual approach for dealing with anorexic patients, and Ellen is sent to a medical home populated with other patients who share her condition.
The ‘alternative therapy’ aspect may be familiar to those who have seen films like Robert DeNiro’s The Awakening, but To the Bone has enough going for it to stand out on its own. The cause for Ellen’s eating disorder is made immediately clear, and the conflict that she faces is dealt with in a raw, starkly real fashion that is easy to connect with no matter where you are from. A lesser film would have easily gone down the ‘magical healing’ route but Noxon’s controlled direction keeps things afloat.
The film flits from Ellen’s therapy sessions with her shrink and her banter with the other patients at the medical mansion — the former delivering Reeves in an interesting, never before seen avatar and the latter with often hilarious characters. The most interesting of which is Luke (Alex Sharp) who behaves like someone in showbiz, and predictably there is some mutual interest between him and Ellen. There is a constant tonal shift in the film from absurdity to lightness, which somehow works, making a case for more comedies about medical setbacks. Though it doesn’t quite reach the levels of 50-50, the execution is more mature than the likes of The Fault in our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Ellen’s character is interesting — she measures calories of anything placed in front of her, weighed down by the bridge between her ego and helplessness. Collins actually lost weight to look the part and every time the camera lingers over her body it’s downright frightening. Ellen’s sister Kelly (Liana Liberato) is a polar opposite — both physically and mentally — and Liberato gets an epic scene at a family therapy session gone woefully wrong that signals the arrival of a new talent.
It’s not exactly a feel-good film that serves magical answers to real life conflicts but it serves both as a well made piece of cinema that doubles as a PSA. The privileged white American point of view depicted in the film may not resonate with everyone in India, but the issues addressed in the film are widespread, as is the reason why they thrive — because people don’t talk to others when they have problems — which is a very real Indian issue.
To the Bone is now streaming on Netflix India