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The slow destruction of a body is a hard thing to watch, be it through drugs or disease or in the case of millions – primarily young women – anorexia, a disorder that has those affected fearing to gain weight and a desire to be very thin. With To The Bone, there is great shock in the watching these characters fight for their lives in a film that is uncompromising in delivering an earnest and sometimes heart-wrenching experience.
We meet Ellen (Lily Collins), a college-aged young woman with anorexia nervosa, battling it for most of her life. She’s booted out of another facility after upsetting others and heads back home to her absent father and vocal but concerned stepmother Susan (a very good Carrie Preston). They lay down rules, with one being a change in doctors, a highly-sought after specialist named Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves), who has an unorthodox approach, one involving a points and level-up program. In the new house, she meets a few others suffering similarly and becomes overwhelmed by the demands as she works to heal, a task not so easy as she searches for answers within that seem lost in her withering frame.
Written and directed by Marti Noxon, To The Bone is a highly-personal film and is about a terrifying condition yet is never overly-dramatic, avoiding the clichés of the TV after school special, instead putting much more of its efforts into developing the characters, all of whom feel authentic and wholly convincing. Collins especially is very good, her body transformed into an emaciated mess that is, as expected, harrowing to look at, and yet it is everything else about her that makes her so compelling, never personifying the standards of a character like this, despite Ellen’s bitterness. This is a journey of daily struggles and little victories, all of which make it a truly moving experience. Collins actually did lose the weight, and, like any of these actors who do so for a role, it’s frightening to see. It’s doubly so with her as she once battled anorexia, part of the reason why she took the role.
In Ellen’s path is a young man named Luke (Alex Sharp), another anorexic, or “rexi” as he puts it, patient at the house, a British dancer who’s injured himself and has taken to the program well but falls for Ellen, who begins to have feelings for him as well. It’s a challenging relationship that tests the two of them as he craves support and she pains at even the slightest touch. She refuses to let anyone in. That includes Beckham, who can’t seem to reach her. His philosophy for saving her is superficially simple but there is more to his plan than what it seems, the depths she must visit the hardest part of the way back home. Reeves is quite strong in the role, as limited as it it, but he brings a surprising amount of comfort and strength to the part. It’s some of the best work in his career.
To The Bone is a powerful story and while there are some slower moments in the middle, the message here is inspiring. Finding reasons to stay alive don’t come easy for Ellen and she faces the worst within herself as her body withers and fails. The film falls a few times into the trappings of the genre, but never loses its grip, even when it seems like it absolutely will. This is a traumatizing story, but one well worth experiencing.
Movie description: To The Bone is a 2017 drama about a young woman dealing with anorexia who meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.
Director(s): Marti Noxon
Actor(s): Keanu Reeves, Lily Collins, Kathryn Prescott