To the Bone (2017)
We see a number of young women doing arts and crafts while talking about how magazines are giving women the wrong message that causes eating disorders. Our first introduction to Ellen (Lily Collins), an extremely skinny 20-year-old woman, is when she makes fun of the women who were complaining. Lily is asked by the counselor running the meeting to change her tone. Ellen smiles then holds up the sign that she has been working on, which has a graphic saying on it. Some of the girls react shocked, a few laugh, but the counselor is not happy. We next see Ellen pushing a cart down the hallway with all her stuff on it. It’s undeniable that she has been kicked out of the program. She meets a girl in the hallway who calls her a bitch. Ellen tells her “Told you I could get kicked out; you owe me a carton of Camels.”
Ellen is in a cab and looking out the window as fast-food restaurants seem to be on every corner. Ellen is let out in front of a nice-looking house in the suburbs. She stands in front of the house smoking a cigarette as she steels herself to face her family. She finally rings the doorbell, and the maid greets her with “Look at you; your parents are going to kill you.” Her step mother has decided that she is going to stay in the garage. We next see artwork on the walls that Ellen has done while we hear her exercising. The artwork is well done but very dark. Ellen is doing sit-ups on the floor next to her bed.
Ellen is next sitting at the kitchen counter as the maid serves her a big plate of pork chops and noodles. Ellen is talking with her kid sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato). Ellen is playing a game, telling Kelly exactly how many calories there are from each item on her plate. Kelly checks her phone to see if she got it right, which Ellen nails. Kelly says that Ellen has “calorie Asperger’s.” The maid tells Ellen that she needs to eat the meat and not just the beans. Susan, Ellen’s stepmother (Carrie Preston) comes into the room apologizing that she was late and hugs Ellen. You can tell from the hug that Ellen is not comfortable around Susan. We cut to Susan talking to Ellen telling her that her father (who still not home) is not happy with Ellen. Susan says the doctors at the last treatment center said Ellen was defiant and a bad influence on the other girls. Ellen says that she is “maintaining.’ Susan says that Ellen can stay, but only if she agrees to be weighed, and she keeps her weight up. We next see Ellen getting weighed by Susan. Ellen takes off her sweater, and we see just how skinny she is. Susan is shocked by how Ellen looks. Susan looks at the scale with sadness as she realizes just how much weight Ellen has lost. Susan then takes a picture and shows Ellen what she looks like. If Ellen keeps losing weight, she is going to die. Will the new doctor whom Ellen is about to see finally be able to get Ellen to eat and save her life?
The new Netflix produced film. To the Bone, written and directed by Marti Noxon, tells the story of a young anorexic woman struggling with the disease. Ellen is about to meet a very unconventional doctor, Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves and be placed in a home for people suffering eating disorders. Noxon was someone who struggled with anorexia and bulimia into her 20s, so she knows the material. Noxon gives Ellen a dry sense of humor and the young men and women she lives within the home all have a ‘gallows’ sense about themselves, constantly tell inside-jokes that might be cruel in an ordinary situation. The house allows us to see all types of eating disorders. While Ellen just doesn’t eat, others in the house binge and purge, many like Ellen do exercise to burn calories. It’s an insight into a world that most people are never exposed to.
The film is filled with an extraordinary cast. Keanu Reeves plays Dr. Beckham, a man who uses tough love and unconventional treatments (like taking the whole home to an art museum) to get his patients to get in control of their disease. Reeves is perfectly cast in the role, bring that sense of cool and caring that he can project so well. Carrie Preston is Ellen’s step mom, Susan, who cares about Ellen but doesn’t know how to deal with her. Preston does her usually excellent job, making Susan into a nervous puzzled mess. Lili Taylor plays Ellen’s real mom, Judy, who is in a relationship with a woman played by Brooke Smith. Judy left Ellen’s father when Ellen was thirteen. The couple now lives far away in Phoenix where they run a horse therapy farm. Taylor and Smith play off each other extremely well. Several of Ellen’s housemates stand out. Leslie Bibb is a bulimic who is pregnant and is stressed about trying to maintain her weight and keep her baby safe. Alex Sharp is a witty, anorexic ballet dancer who sees something in Ellen that she can’t see. Sharp is very funny in his feature-film debut, giving it some hope in a house that doesn’t have a lot of it. Sharp has good chemistry with Lily Collins, and their scenes together are some of the best of the film.
To the Bone is Lily Collins film, and she runs with the part. Collins recently disclosed that she dealt with eating disorders in her teens and that authenticity shows on the screen. She allows us into Ellen’s life, which seems to be a constant battle between what Ellen knows is right and what she is desperate to attain, to be as skinny as she possibly can. It’s a subtle, but powerful performance that has you rooting for this troubled woman from almost the start. This is Lily Collins finest performance to date and gets everything she can out of the part.
Performances aside, I wanted to love this film, but I only liked it. I never quite got connected to the lead character. I think that if we saw more of the work that Dr. Beckham and Ellen did together in sessions, we would have gotten more of insight into her character. It’s a heartfelt movie with some moving scenes, but the plot goes for some easy outs in a film that should have had a harder tone to it. I think people that have dealt with eating disorders will enjoy this movie, but for others, it will fall a little flat. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film will not be released theatrically and is now available on Netflix.
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