Marti Noxon pulls from personal problems to deliver a raw and real drama
It’s not very common for movies to deal with tricky subject let alone deal with eating disorders. I get it, though, it can be tricky to portray this type of sensitive matter in a world obsessed with militant political correctness or the over reactive backlash to the first movement. So, to be so unapologetic as Marti Noxon’s To The Bone is a triumph of its own. A touch of delicacy and emotionality, this eating disorder drama has a healthy balance continuing Netflix’s trend of controversial content.
Ellen (Lily Collins) has tried yet consistently failing to overcome her anorexia nervosa. Her step mother (Carrie Preston) may have found a center where the rehab is so unconventional, it may just work. With the help of Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves) and the patients in the rehab clinic, Ellen hopes to overcome her illness before the illness overcomes her.
The main attraction of To The Bone is Lily Collins weight loss and terrific performance. It’s easy to lose weight and let that transformation do the acting. Collins doesn’t let it govern her acting. She takes the lead while giving a vulnerable multi-layered performance. When it’s revealed that there’s more to Ellen than meets the eye, Collins takes that information and adds yet another layer to her distraught character. She makes it feel real and humanizes a disease that is mostly erased from the film.
Noxon surely knew coming in what controversy would plague her film. Her sentiment towards such a thing is clear in the movie itself. To The Bone has an unapologetic tone throughout. Characters will say whatever is on their minds and this is exactly who Noxon feels toward the controversy. Even if some of those things can come off rather insensitive, it paints the characters as real people. Their reactions, their actions, and their words all seem incredibly real. And while they do casually let out insults or insensitive things, it makes them part of the real world where nobody’s perfect.
With this uncensored writing, To The Bone is able to humanize and empathize with victims of eating disorders. All their stories, and especially Ellen’s, feel like real survivor stories. This sense may come from Noxon’s and Collins’ own battle with anorexia nervosa. Of course, it won’t generalize to the larger population, but the story is of personal and intimate nature. It mirrors real life in a way other movies often lack, especially eating disorder films.
However, To The Bone betrays its sense of reality for a small bit towards the end that feels off place. It dives into surrealist territory and although, it’s quite poetic and well done, it’s off putting in an otherwise realistic story. It wouldn’t have been quite as jarring if the film had hinted surrealistic elements throughout the movie. But Noxon chose to tell her experience in a very realistic approach, and it’s strange that she would betray that for a quick 5 minutes.
To The Bone sticks to many of its aspects and while the dream-like aspect betrayed the overall realness, it never succumbs to the “magic cure” so many movies dealing with physical or mental illness succumb to. It refuses to give Collins’ character an unrealistic easy way out. Noxon’s personal experience may have been yet a factor in truly understanding eating disorders and the road to recovery. Even with all that, To The Bone ends with
Even with all that, To The Bone never feels nihilistic. It gives its audience hope for a better life for Ellen and hope to the victims of such an illness. Although I do not recommend it to people on the road to recovery or survivors of eating disorders as it may be triggering, everyone else should check it out. It’s a personal film anchored by Lily Collins’ terrific performance, and it may also educate people on the urgency of eating disorders.
To The Bone is currently available on Netflix.