Trigger-warning: The following article discusses To The Bone, a movie concerning Anorexia Nervosa. The author utilizes humour in addressing the topic, which some may find offensive.
There are some movies that seem tailor-made for a romantic evening, and the benefit of Netflix is the possibility for multi-tasking when viewed at home. As much as “Netflix and chill” has caught on as a shamelessly suggestive date night, the option to watch a feature film over dinner at home is something I often take for granted. On such nights, the perfect movie often seems to jump out at me. Lady and The Tramp is a personal favourite for a quiet night in a candle-lit room, after spending an hour stressing over how my risotto will turn out.
To The Bone is not a movie to “chill” or eat during. Director Marti Noxon’s all too personal take on anorexia and eating disorders is a harrowing look at both the stigma and the affliction itself. Should any viewer enter unaware of the subject matter, a nifty disclaimer at the beginning warns of the potentially triggering content within – understandable, given the grim state of the characters throughout most of the film.
Lily Collins portrays the 20 year-old Ellen, an artist suffering from anorexia nervosa. Having been treated by (and kicked out of) 4 outpatient clinics for her condition, Ellen’s demeanor is somewhat shamelessly pessimistic. She never argues about whether or not she can beat her disorder because its never a possibility – why discuss the impossible?
Collins delivers an Ellen that is not bitchy, crude, or weak, but just as a smart, talented woman masking hopelessness with sarcasm. Every time in her life she has tried to get help for something, she has only been asked “why do you need help?” Beaten down by the world after only two decades, Ellen isn’t suicidal but uncaring.
Eerily believable, both in performance and physicality, Collins is both the film’s star and its saving grace.
Opposite Collins is the mid-career-resurgence Keanu Reeves, playing not a badass mercenary or gunslinging martial arts master, but a psychologist specializing in eating disorders. Featured heavily throughout marketing for the Netflix Original film, Reeves deserves the attention, even if it is somewhat deceptive. With less than 15 minutes of screen-time, Reeves baits the audience into a switch. Far more prominently featured are other supporting characters, loosely grouped into two groups: other patients and Ellen’s family, both of which are especially weak.
Pushing the audience’s patience to the point of breaking, every supporting character feels clunky and obviously looped in as if to check off a particular box. Whiny love interest? Check. Vulgar sister serving as Ellen’s only lifeline? Check. Stepmother who is relentless about blaming everyone except herself? Shockingly enough, they have one.
A story built around and for its lead, To The Bone seems to cram in a surprising amount of filler for a drama about anorexia, depression, and mortality. While it doesn’t go starving for strong performances, too little focus on its strengths stretches the film thin.
Better Than: Castlevania, in terms of recent Netflix Originals
Not As Good As: Riverdale, for teen drama about real-life issues
You May Also Like: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, written by To the Bone director Marti Noxon