To the Bone ** / *****
Directed by: Marti Noxon.
Written by: Marti Noxon.
Starring: Lily Collins (Ellen), Keanu Reeves (Dr. William Beckham), Kathryn Prescott (Anna), Liana Liberato (Kelly), Carrie Preston (Susan), Alanna Ubach (Karen), Lili Taylor (Judy), Brooke Smith (Olive), Ciara Bravo (Tracy), Retta (Lobo), Hana Hayes (Chloe), Alex Sharp (Luke), Rebekah Kennedy (Penny), Maya Eshet (Pearl), Joanna Sanchez (Rosa), Lindsey McDowell (Kendra).
I have a feeling that when writer/director Marti Noxon decided to make a film about anorexia – based, in part, on her own experiences dealing with the disease, that she had a long list of things she didn’t want her film to do, in order to avoid the pitfalls of a TV-Movie-of-the-Week or a “very special” episode of a well-meaning family sitcom. This is admirable to be sure – but watching the film, it felt like the moving was trying so hard not to be the clichéd version of this story, that it never really figured out what it really did want to be. The movie throws a lot of terminology about anorexia around, and seems to stress over and over again that there is no one root cause, and no one way to deal with it, etc. But then it doesn’t really show us anything. The brilliant doctor who treats the houseful of patients dealing with the disease (played by Keanu Reeves) doesn’t really seem to have a plan in place at all in terms of treatment. Again, he’s very confident about what won’t work, but doesn’t really know what will.
The story centers on Ellen (Lily Collins) – a 20 year old woman, who has been suffering from anorexia for a while, and been in and out of treatment for years, but isn’t getting any better. Her father is at work all the time (literally, it seems, as he never appears in the movie), her mother (Lily Taylor) came out as a lesbian when Ellen was 13, and has recently moved to Phoenix after yet another breakdown. Her stepmother, Susan (Carrie Preston), talks non-stop, and can be annoying – but she really does care, and she really does her best to try and help (at least it seemed like it to me – the movie, I’m not so sure sees her the same way). Ellen, reluctantly, agrees to go into another in-patient facility for treatment – this one in a large house, staffed by nurses, with a total of 7 patients, and run by Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves) who treatment seems to be a mixture of touch love and praise, and not a whole lot else.
It’s at the treatment facility that things start to go a little sideways for the movie. Ellen meets Luke (Alex Sharp), an anorexic ballet dancer, who is well on the way to recovery – and he becomes a kind of annoying cheerleader, prodder and romantic interest. His romantic gestures are creepier than anything else, and his constant insistence on Ellen doing what he asks is annoying. The rest of the patients are ill-defined, and just kind of there – which doesn’t help when the film tries to milk one them for a big emotional payoff in the third act.
The writing tries to mix in some humor along with the all more serious stuff about anorexia, and it’s probably the best part of the movie. Lily Collins is best here when she gets to be sarcastic and downright bitchy – she has got a killer look in her eyes able to cut you down to nothing with a glance. But Ellen never really comes into focus as a character. The screenplay throws out a lot of stuff about just how dysfunctional her family is – and then pretty much has the doctor dismiss it all as irrelevant. Ellen is said to be feeling guilty about her artwork – that may have contributed to another girl killing herself – but that never really comes into focus, much like everything else in the film.
I don’t doubt the intentions of the people behind this movie – who wanted to address a serious issue in a way that wasn’t maudlin or preachy, but was actually entertaining. But the gap between their intentions and the results is just too wide to make To the Bone all that successful.