“To The Bone”: Netflix Tackles Sensitive Subject With New Original Film

It’s tough to make a movie about any disease without veering into “After School Special” territory.  To The Bone, a new Netflix original film, attempts to tell the story of a young woman struggling with anorexia in a new and compelling way. More importantly, the film tells a realistic story, not a romanticized version of this serious and deadly illness.

Marti Noxon wrote the screenplay, and To The Bone marks her feature film directorial debut. Noxon is better known for her successful career as a television producer.  She’s served as an Executive Producer for a number of hit shows, most revolving around female characters, including UnREAL, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and many more.  Noxon knows all too well the seriousness of anorexia and the toll it takes on its victims both physically and psychologically.  Both Noxon and the film’s star Lily Collins, who plays 20-year old artist Ellen, struggled with anorexia themselves.  In fact, the two women discussed the impact making the film would have on both of their recoveries before deciding to go ahead with the project. Eventually, they both decided that the message of the film was too important to shelve.

 

As you might imagine, To The Bone shows the way anorexia ravages its victim’s body and psyche.  But it also touches on some of the disconnects within our culture that lead to the prevalence of anorexia. Images of extremely thin women and men saturate the media, bombarding us with unrealistic bodies and beauty standards that we are meant to idealize and see as aspirational, all in the name of selling products.  The idea that some form of “perfection” exists, and we can achieve it if we just work hard enough at it.  The film touches on those external pressures, as well as familial dysfunction that can fan the flames of disordered eating.

Lily Collins is mesmerizing as Ellen, and newcomer Alex Sharp is compelling as Luke, one of her housemates at a live-in recovery home.  Keanu Reeves is believable as her non-traditional doctor and serves as an anchor for the film.  Carrie Preston takes on the overbearing step-mother role with her usual intensity.  Her role leans toward cliché, but her performance makes it believable.  The dialogue is fairly crisp and the movie is paced well.  The ending is appropriate to the concept of the film, though some are likely to find it less than satisfying.

 

Of course, as in the case of any film that deals with sensitive subject matter, some will argue that the film is triggering, and therefore should be avoided.  In fact, several petitions were circulating to keep Netflix from streaming To The Bone. I would caution those who have struggled with an eating disorder that this film might indeed be triggering.  The film delves deeply into the emotional, psychological and physical trauma associated with the disease and paints a grim picture.  At no point is the disease glamorized.  However, for some, that won’t matter.  The characters’ behaviors and dialogue may inadvertently (in part because of its realistic depictions) trigger past thought-patterns.  This film is rated TV-MA for mature audiences, and also includes a disclaimer that the material may be too challenging for some viewers.  Take that warning to heart.

Overall, To The Bone is a well-written, well-acted, and emotionally-engrossing film with well-developed characters.

To The Bone: 8/10

Patty Williamson

I teach media-related stuff at Central Michigan University, and have been ruining film for students for nearly 20 years.

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