To the Bone (2017)

To the Bone
Director: Marti Noxon
Writer: Marti Noxon
Cast: Lily Collins, Alex Sharp, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Preston, Liana Liberato, Retta, Leslie Bibb, Lili Taylor
Seen on: 7.7.2021

Content Note: eating disorders, ableism

Plot:
Ellen (Lily Collins) has been struggling with anorexia for a while now, but she hasn’t made much headway. Only her sister Kelly (Liana Liberato) and her stepmother Susan (Carrie Preston) seem to have some hope left that Ellen might make it after all. When Susan drags her to yet another doctor, Ellen isn’t particularly interested. But Dr Beckham (Keanu Reeves) takes a more unusual approach and Ellen agrees to another rehab. One last attempt to get her weight up and her eating under control.

To the Bone gets some things very right, others not so much. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it doesn’t develop enough power to really work.

The film poster showing Ellen (Lily Collins) in profile. Her face is a photo, but the rest of her is a pencil sketch.

To the Bone does one thing extremely well, and that’s showing the everyday realities of eating disorders. The calorie counting (ableist term “calorie Aspergers” is thrown around a couple of times, unfortunately), the excessive sport, the lack of menstruations, the fact that you can’t see whether somebody has an eating disorder – not everyone is as painfully thin as Ellen -, the dark humor that people can develop to deal with their illness, that there isn’t one single reason that can be pinpointed (and maybe there isn’t a reason at all).

What it fails to contend with pretty much at all is the culture of thinness and fatmisia that is the breeding ground for eating disorders. But without that context, the film lacks the glue that holds it all together, the backdrop that extends beyond individuals. This is part of the reason why the ending feels so very hollow – Ellen suddenly deciding that she wants to get better will only fix part of the problem.

Ellen (Lily Collins) at the doctor's office.

Equally weird was the completely unnecessary and partly very uncomfortable romantic subplot that was a distraction more than anything else. Plus, it struck me as odd (albeit very realistic) that Dr Beckham is hailed for his unusual methods when the every day work (that we barely see) is done by women, while I doubt that his drive-by therapy is very effective.

The film wasn’t bad, the cast was fine, but it remains fragmented, circling around the topic without really daring to touch it, when it should be faced head-on.

Ellen (Lily Collins) talking to Luke (Alex Sharp).

Summarizing: I’ve seen worse, but you could have made more of it.

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