Tough subjects are often difficult to film. Subjects the complexities of being transgender and Anorexia Nervosa has seemingly always been among those to be considered hard to do. The film, 3 Generations, which was released earlier this year, tackles transgender identity in a rather weak manner. That film suffered from overacting, an inconsistent focus and largely skirting the bigger issues at hand. A new film, debuting on Netflix as they continue to grow their original film library, tackles Anorexia. Yet unlike 3 Generations, Marti Noxon’s To The Bone has interesting characters, even though it may not necessarily have anything ground breaking to say.
To The Bone is not an easy film to watch, but it has some great character work. The story is loosely based on Noxon’s real life struggles and experiences with the disease. For a feature film debut, Noxon has me intrigued for what she may be able to do in the feature. She pulls some quality performances out of the actors in the film and her script never, to me, felt like this should’ve been on Lifetime.
In the movie, Ellen, played terrifically by Lily Collins, was once an artist of notable fame whose controversial art work led to the death of a fan. Ellen grows up in a dysfunctional family that includes her step mother Susan, real mother Judy and sister Kelly. Her father is never present, and her mother ended their marriage after coming out as a lesbian.
Ellen is taken to see Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves) who’s unusual methods have apparently spurned several cures for people struggling with the disease. Reeves’s doctor is mentioned to be charasmatic, but Reeves himself never fits that bill performance wise. He is abrasive, and brutally honest, but compassionate. Reeves is in fine in the role, but it is a part that seemingly could’ve been filled by anyone. Collins gives a nuanced and sometimes powerful performance that elevates the material above TV movie status. The film is very much about her more so than it is the disease. However, To The Bone has a specific focus although it does wander away from it at some points. In movies like these, the characters are important.
To The Bone, to the best of my knowledge, is one of the first Hollywood produced films about anorexia. And, while it isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of he imagination, it is one that is often harrowing and also deeply human. Luke (Alex Sharp) is a young man who is in the home that Ellen is staying at as part of Dr. Beckham’s treatment. They strike up a relationship and he tries to get Ellen to eat much to her chagrin. It creates a bit of an awkward love angle that doesn’t always work, but the chemistry between Sharp and Collins is undeniable.
While Netflix continues to dive into intriguing original stories, they’ve found a few that have worked well. Beasts of No Nation was their first foray into this world and they have not ceased to choose interesting tales. Take the wonderful Okja for example. To The Bone tackles tough subject matter and takes a risk by choosing to focus on character in spite of taking a broader look at anorexia. Noxon’s film isn’t a stroke of genius or wholly original despite it’s odd ending. But, it is a film that takes a chilling look at a crippling disease and finds a way to make it an above average piece.