To The Bone – sarcastic, dark, grim with a hint of optimism

Lily Collins shines throughout this Netflix original production

And once again Netflix has proven that it can be a major competitor in the international film production market. “To The Bone” is one of several movie projects the streaming service has created and it shows that Netflix productions can keep up with any big screen cinema film; not least owing to Lily Collins’ amazing performance in this drama about anorexia.

The disclaimer at the beginning already reveals that this movie directed by Marti Noxon is not going to be pretty and easy to watch. It is hard for a movie to walk the thin line between romanticising something that shouldn’t be and shocking viewers way too much with the harsh truth about anorexia. But “To The Bone” manages exactly that, thanks especially to an amazing cast. Lead actress Lily Collins proves that her credentials include more than her father’s name with a gripping performance in this dark but very personal movie.

Martha Mills Noxon retells her very own struggle with anorexia in her debut as director and manages to appeal to a huge crowd. The film was praised by many but also criticised for its very difficult topic. The former screenwriter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men shows her sentimental, deep and brooding side in this drama.

Ellen’s (amazingly portrayed by Lily Collins) life is far from easy: a lesbian mother who left her with her father, who is never there for her, an overcaring and sometimes very insensitive stepmother as well as a past that just won’t let her go.  When the 20-year old woman is introduced to us she is no more than skin and bones and has already been through four inpatient programs. As a very last resort her stepmother (hilariously played by Carrie Preston) takes her to Dr. William Beckham who has a different approach to Ellen and her disease.

“I don’t wanna talk about food, it’s boring”- Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves) makes it pretty clear that his treatment is not about food and eating. In his inpatient program Ellen, who starts calling herself Eli, lives in a house together with six other young adults suffering from eating disorders ranging from binge eating to anorexia to bulimia nervosa. The patients get to decide themselves what they eat and what they spend their time doing.

Here Ellen meets a variety of characters such as the former ballet dancer Luke, who dreams of becoming a member of the London Royal Dance Company and really wants to get better so he can pursue his dreams, and the pregnant Megan, who fears for her unborn child from day to day. Each and every one of the other patients has his or her own burden to bear and Ellen/Eli must learn that she needs to accept that the world isn’t fair and that she is not only damaging herself but also her family and the people who love her.

Especially when meeting the characters the plot seems to be stretched a bit and it looks like nobody is making real progress, but of course you can see it as a reflection of the steady struggle with eating disorders where there are very often times where there is no progress. You cannot get better all at once.

“People say they love you. But what they really love is how loving you makes them feel about themselves!” Eli has very dark and sarcastic way of looking at the world and Collins manages to show every facet of the troubled young woman; from the insecure girl who is just looking for someone to guide her through her problems to the sassy artist who always has the right answer for every situation. In “To The Bone” Lily Collins proves that she can be way more than Phil Collins’ daughter. The shocking images of her body leave you with goosebumps everywhere.

The rest of the cast delivers amazing performances too. Keanu Reeves really shines in the role of psychiatrist Dr. Beckham, who is the only person capable of telling the harsh truth to Eli. A very special highlight is Alex Sharp as Luke, who plays the misunderstood ballet dancer with such charm and nonchalance that it is hard not to develop a slight crush on him. He is the colourful and optimistic counterpart to the pessimistic and sarcastic Ellen.

It is incredibly hard to make a movie about mental illness. You either end up glorifying problems or telling a fairly one-sided story about eating disorders with deeply shocking images. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s be honest it is hard to follow a story if we are too shocked by the pictures. “To The Bone” manages a balancing act between being a movie that is not uncomfortable to watch but one which still does not glorify anorexia. We are not given just one side of the story either. The film brings you to tears when you see Eli’s family slowly accepting that their daughter is dying. A lot of people complained about the movie being too negative, but as Dr. Beckham says: “Stop waiting for life to be easy. Stop hoping for somebody to save you. You don’t need another person lying to you. Things don’t all add up, but you are resilient. Face some hard facts and you could have an incredible life.” To the Bone stands for exactly that.

“To The Bone” is a dark, grim and personal movie but one which still offers an optimistic perspective on living and letting live. It leaves you shocked, devastated and brooding over life itself. The movie manages to walk the thin line between painting a glorifying and picture of anorexia and one that is too realistic. You’re always hoping along with the characters and are disappointed with them too thanks to the amazing performances by Collins and her co-stars. Even though the story is sometimes unnecessarily stretched at some points, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of this amazing and mesmerising drama.

Frederike Schirra

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