Director: Marti Noxon
Starring: Lily Collins, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor, Keanu Reeves, Alex Sharp, Liana Liberato, Leslie Bibb
Don’t fade away.
The tagline for To the Bone is ominously apparent whilst watching the movie as Lily Collins’ Ellen does appear to literally be wasting away in front of our eyes. With great input from sufferers of the illness, the shocking toll that anorexia takes on the human form is laid bare for everyone to see in Marti Noxon’s frank movie.
Through the pain and shocking body depravity is also sincerity and compassion towards the subject also.
Ellen’s insistent stepmother, Susan (Preston), has sent her to clinic after clinic in an attempt to ‘cure’ her of her illness and to prompt Ellen to put weight on, but it’s all to no avail, there’s no real desire to tow the line and she is seen as ‘troubled’. Dropped by each of the clinics, she is sent to the home-run treatment centre of Dr. William Beckham (Reeves), a renowned expert in anorexia who urges his patients to embrace hope and to seek out whatever makes them feel alive. Backed by the unwavering support of her concerned half-sister Kelly (Liberato), Ellen gives the six-week session a chance.
The centre is already home to seven patients, including pregnant Megan (Bibb) and exceedingly English Luke (Sharp), each with their own varying experiences with the condition and variable personalities. Having seen the satirical anorexia art Ellen used to post on Tumblr, Luke is immediately smitten with her and soon morphs into a hormonally charged puppy. As Ellen struggles to fit in and with no signs of improvement or effort, a family intervention is called, this time including Ellen’s mother Judy (Taylor) however this only adds to more potential reasons for Ellen’s fast-deteriorating health and wellbeing, as well as shedding light on previous tragic events.
To the Bone never attempts to glamorize the illness or to be too graphic in its presentation. In fact, there are no biology lessons or histories of the illness to be found, only smatterings of exposition throughout. Instead, the movie focuses more on the impact the illness has on the people around Ellen, and also her physical deterioration. It’s not an ‘entertaining’ movie per se, it lacks the quirkily compelling story of The Fault in Our Stars, this is more an engaging movie. Its pacing lets the story develop at a slower pace, and though there are many scenes of counselling and therapy, the audience won’t feel as if they too are being counselled.
With her gaunt, wiry appearance Collins captures the level required for the role brilliantly. She has openly discussed her own battles with the illness and obviously brought those experiences to the role. Brash and awkward, the character could have become wholly unlikeable, but the vulnerability Collins displays only highlights the inner struggle her character faces. She doesn’t mean to come across as horrid, she just can’t help it. Newcomer Alex Sharp brings some British humour and levity to proceedings as vibrant Luke, an ex-dancer nursing himself back to health. Keanu Reeves hits and misses in his role, at times his simple approach works just fine, at others, it seems wooden and almost uninterested.
The humour is placed well and much needed in the movie (they even land a playful Holocaust joke). Dealing with dangerous pregnancies, patients regressing to child-like states, hidden bags of vomit and an intriguingly absent father (largely hinted as a key reason for Ellen’s condition, potentially through abuse) To the Bone deals with subjects that certainly aren’t glamorous, but its clear Noxon (herself a former sufferer) isn’t aiming for allure, rather a hard-hitting approach to really highlight the dangers.
There’s a nice scene during a day trip to an art museum in Los Angeles that illustrates that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you have hope and its hope that Noxon tries to spread throughout. The message takes an ill-advised hallucinatory turn towards the movie's end, after a bizarre yet tender reconciliation with Judy, Ellen is shown her future and her present plight before an abrupt conclusion. It seems only right the film ends as bluntly as it is portrayed.
To the Bone is not a fun movie, nor one that will leave you on the edge of your seats, it isn’t really that kind of movie. Instead, it exists to highlight the dangers of anorexia and eating disorders and hopefully, it can get through to anyone who is suffering themselves. Anchored by a strong lead performance by Lily Collins, the movie should open eyes to a serious condition and will keep you interested until the end.
One serious question is also proposed – how many calories do boogers have?
August 10th 2017