You’ve probably seen more than a couple of movies in your lifetime that left you with a feeling like: “Well, that was wonderful, but I never in my life will want to watch it again.” Usually, this comes from movies with tough subject matter. By now you’ve probably figured out that this is the sentiment I’m left with after watching To the Bone, a Netflix-distributed movie about eating disorders—made by people who, themselves, have been affected by the illnesses.
Our protagonist is Ellen (Lily Collins), a 20-year-old who suffers from anorexia. It’s so far strained all of her relationships and cost her a college education—not to mention the damage it’s done to her body. Inpatient programs aren’t doing any good, nor are any other treatments. Her stepmother (Carrie Preston) decides to throw a Hail Mary and take her to Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves), who has unconventional but purportedly effective methods for dealing with patients. The rest of the film details Ellen’s journey from this point, as she moves into a house with six other individuals and continues to battle her illness.
That’s more or less all there is to the overarching plot. After all, that struggle—and, boy, is it a struggle—is more than enough to fill almost two hours of running time. There are smaller things, like how Ellen develops a friendship with one of the patients, Luke (Alex Sharp), or the interactions between her and the rest of the people in the house, but almost all of it is in service of this battle, which is a constant, ever-present influence in every decision she makes.
What To the Bone does best is provide a serious, sobering, insightful, and compelling look at its subject matter. Anyone who thinks this is a glamorization of eating disorders has misread the text. It not only opens a conversation—what was the last widely available or of-theatrical-quality movie about eating disorders?—but it provides insight into both the struggle and the mindset of someone who’s fighting. It’s heartbreaking. To the Bone doesn’t pull its punches, either, which makes a couple of its moments shocking and haunting.
To the Bone is a very tough watch, but I think it’s a great and important one.
Take, for example, its most vulnerable moment, during which point Ellen’s mother (Lili Taylor) sits down and talks with her daughter, delivering a devastating monologue before the two embrace in an unconventional and haunting, yet somehow psychologically sensible, way. And then director Marti Noxon decides instead of cutting to instead slowly zoom out and hold it, letting it linger, and forever etching it into our minds.
Lily Collins turns in what is easily her best performance, although her career to this point has been such that that isn’t a high bar to vault over. Still, it’s a performance of subtleties and complexities and is very compelling—to the point that what could be an annoying wisecracking role is turned into something great. That’s aided by Noxon’s script and direction, of course, which give the character layers, but Collins brings those layers out thanks to a strong performance.
To the Bone is a very tough watch, but I think it’s a great and important one. It’s not every day that we get challenging movies about subject matters that most people would prefer to sweep under the carpet, so when one does come out—and it’s also good—it needs to be appreciated. This is a strong drama with a complicated protagonist that details her struggle with anorexia. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, but it’s emotionally compelling and very insightful.
Conclusion: To the Bone is a difficult but important watch.
Recommendation: If you can stomach To the Bone‘s subject matter, it’s worth checking out.