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Eating disorders can be a difficult subject for movies. Problems that mostly pertain to women don’t seem to be taken as seriously in general, and this is an issue most assume has an easy cure. Why don’t they just…you know, eat? To the Bone doesn’t provide an answer, and doesn’t really want to. What it does provide is a portrait of someone whose very life depends on her ability to overcome her anorexia, and it’s a surprisingly compelling one.
Ellen (Lily Collins) is barely out of her teens, but she’s been anorexic for years, and it’s taken such a toll on her body that she’s running short on time to get healthy. She’s been hospitalized several times, and each time she’s failed to improve. So the unconventional clinic run by Keanu Reeves (who makes the most of getting some of the film’s best lines) will probably be what makes her or breaks her. She’ll either get better, or she’ll die.
Countless movies and pieces have been written about the harsh beauty standards women are expected to conform to, so To the Bone wisely ignores them and invests in making the most out of its cast, which not only includes the aforementioned Collins and Reeves, but also the likes of Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor, and a standout unknown in Alex Sharp as the lone male suffering from an eating disorder. And since it’s written and directed by Marti Noxon, who has also worked on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and UnREAL, there’s plenty of crackling wit and humor.
It’s a good thing, since the movie isn’t the easiest thing to watch. These girls are so obsessed with thinness, they count calories in their feeding tubes as they literally waste away. The movie briefly mentions how their compulsions are just another kind of addiction, but To the Bone doesn’t provide much explanation aside from that. Its real power lies in its focus on the personal and the strengths of its cast, especially Lily Collins, who’s mostly been in lighter, fluffy fare such as Mirror Mirror and The Mortal Instruments. Hollywood, get this girl some better roles.
Indeed, it does the personal so well that it’s hardly a surprise to learn that both Collins and Noxon also suffered from eating disorders. However, such an intimate approach means To the Bone drags in places and goes on a bit too long. It is admirable that no one, including Ellen’s rather dysfunctional family or other societal forces are blamed for her condition, but some examination of the outside world or even the other girls at the clinic feels a bit too absent.
But even with the movie’s faults, Marti Noxon shows such a steady hand in guiding us through what anorexia is actually like that it’s almost enough to compensate for the film’s flaws. It also makes it harder to believe this is her first film. Here’s hoping this will be the first of many.