Poor acting and a muddied plot are the least of this contentious Netflix drama's problems
Lily Collins has had a stressful time recently. First she bared her soul in an open letter to dad Phil, forgiving him for “the mistakes he made” when she was growing up. Then ‘Okja’ faced backlash from cinephiles as the first Netflix film to screen at Cannes. Now her latest project, anorexia-drama To The Bone, has been attacked by those who say it glorifies eating disorders.
The movie follows Ellen (played by Collins), a young woman dealing with the disease. She’s shipped from doctor to doctor by her concerned step-mum before landing in the care of William Beckham (Keanu Reeves). Irregular in his methods, Dr. Beckham challenges her to face her condition and embrace life. It’s a tale that’s been told before, but one that was close to the heart for both cast and crew. Collins herself has struggled with eating disorders and said “it was something I needed to talk about.” Director Marti Noxon recently revealed To The Bone is based on her own experiences as an anorexic. But does this mean any criticism is unfounded?
It’s true that the subject remains taboo. Collins and Noxon should be in-part applauded for trying to spread awareness. But ignoring official charity guidelines – no close-up shots or bones sticking out – isn’t the way to go about it. Nor is such an irresponsible portrayal of those suffering with the disease. For example, To The Bone goes to great lengths to convince us Ellen isn’t like ‘other’ anorexics. She’s feisty (“suck my skinny balls” she tells one shocked therapist), sarcastic, cool and most worryingly, “in control” of her illness. This characterisation isn’t just triggering, it’s dangerous. You only have to glance at a couple of ‘Pro-Ana’ Twitter accounts to see how the film’s message has been hijacked, to devastating effect.
Sadly, the film itself is equally disastrous. The dark humour doesn’t stick and the gloopy moments fall far short of heartwarming. Collins puts in a good performance as the troubled Ellen, but Reeves’ turn as dashing Dr. Beckham is the most ‘phoned-in’ affair of 2017. There’s no energy in his delivery and any dialogue feels stilted as a result. Fans hoping for John Wick levels of charisma will be left wanting. Worse still is the closing dream sequence. A bizarre mess of bright lights and windswept lakes, the moment is meant to seem poignant but ends up confusing, hopelessly muddying the redemptive finale. To The Bone might mean well, but with a topic this important – and so potentially damaging if done wrong – that’s simply not enough.
Release date: July 14, 2017
Director: Marti Noxon