TV-MA for language and nudity. There actually is a weird respect for the "f-word" in this one. So not only do people say the f-bomb way too often, but the f-bomb is considered therapeutic. Also, the movie is pretty disturbing.
DIRECTOR: Marti Noxon
I love Marti Noxon. I see Marti Noxon's name appear after a movie, I lose my mind. I just IMDB'd her and she looks different than I thought she would. That's what's really important, right? The big thing about this movie isn't exactly Marti Noxon, though, is it? This is the movie that is meant to change minds. This is the movie that you are supposed to show those people with an eating disorder. How am I supposed to be critiquing a movie that might have a bigger value to society than simply a form of entertainment? I know that I'm not a doctor, nor am I a social worker. All I can do is relate to this story as a person and see if those ideas match with what I should be saying.
The movie is very dark. It should be. Tonally, Marti Noxon gets her content. I wonder what her personal relationship with eating disorders might be because this feels personal. I applauded her for putting a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie. She establishes first and foremost that this movie has somehow affected the filmmakers personally and I think that gives the content a lot more importance than simply a movie that is meant to somehow be a tearjerker. The message in this movie is that an eating disorder isn't pretty. It is a mental illness and it should be treated as such. I think that this idea is communicated effectively for the most part. I could gush and gush about how important this movie is to today's self-conscious society, but I do want to start with where the movie hits some dangerous ground. I can't help but think of Netflix's other recent release, 13 Reasons Why. 13 Reasons Why was wildly irresponsible with the portrayal of suicide, yet it was thrown around as this socially aware piece. My wife watched the show and there were some really jawdropping moments of irresponsibility. To the Bone doesn't get to those levels. In fact, much of the movie is pretty informative. But the one element that doesn't really translate well is the idea that love can cure an eating disorder. SPOILER: The movie doesn't cure her. I love that. It isn't an easy answer and I completely support that. But some of the healthiest moments that she experiences are moments where she is happy and loved. Similarly, I highly doubt that dancing in a fountain can really affect depression whatsoever. Why are these moments in the movie? Because they are cinematic. Heck, I'm sure dancing in a fountain helped someone. But I kind of cringed in this moment. As seriously as the film takes the problems of eating disorders, it does kind of trivializes how troubled everyone is.
Some things work in movies and some things work in real life. This is the problem that some "important" movies have. Noxon does this amazing job of bringing eating disorders into the public consciousness. But in doing so, she has to make it approachable. Eating disorders are depressing and mundane. Having cleverness makes the story interesting, but it also taints the very message it is trying to get across. Is To the Bone successful? I'll say, "sure". But there is a fine line of how dangerous such a movie could be. Should I be sharing this movie with people I'm worried about? I don't know. It does put a lot of responsibility on those around them. I also hate the idea that the only thing that can help someone in this situation is dropping the f-bomb. I get it, Marti Noxon. You are saying that an eating disorder isn't about being touchy-feely. It isn't about rainbows and sunshine. It is about being mad and fighting and being angry. But Keanu Reeves's character didn't seem like a genius doctor so much as a guy who didn't mind swearing with his patients. It kind of has that Good Will Hunting effect of the teacher who doesn't follow the rules. Reeves needed to have something very real for the character and there isn't a lot of that going on in the movie. One thing that I kind of respected, but also was a bit Hollywood-y, was his awareness of Eli's need to hit bottom. (Let's also establish that the name change to "Eli" probably wouldn't affect a teenage girl as much as the movie allowed. Teenagers are super cynical a lot of times.)
But the movie is pretty great at starting conversations. Eli is a compelling character. There is a weird dynamic that Noxon hits with her shaping of Eli's personality. Firstly, she has to make the character worth loving. Secondly, the audience has to spend most of the movie being angry and frustrated with her. Why? Because that's how we feel about those around us who are suffering. We love them but we want to scream at them. I found myself screaming at Eli far too often. Add to that is the perfect balance of her half-sister. Her half-sister vocalized every frustration I've ever had with those with an eating disorder. It is hard to sometimes categorize an eating disorder as a mental illness necessarily. It seems like a situation where there is such a clear answer. "Just eat." But the movie does this marvelous thing where I began to change my mindset the further I watched. "Just eat" is the answer that will never work. That is not an option. I started calling people who had my similar mindset morons. I was calling myself a moron by the end of the movie because the movie had me invested in Eli's life. My wife wondered why an actress would subject her body to the unhealthy levels presented in the movie. I guess the difference is that the actress is aware of how unhealthy she is. There is no body dysmorphia, which is still pretty scary, but I guess it is for a good cause.
I have to wonder about the romance of this story. Perhaps this movie is meant for today's YA audience. For the sake of storytelling, I suppose a relationship seems like it would drive the story. I like both characters in the relationship. It's not like I want characters to get booted from the story because I thought they were all pretty great. But the relationship does feel a little bit forced. It is such a secondary issue to what is going on. Perhaps Noxon's big commentary is that life doesn't stop just because someone has an eating disorder. I just don't really see these characters ever really getting together. I think part of it is the chemistry between the two characters. There is an element of wish fulfillment going on that doesn't necessarily ring true. The more interesting relationship, which I wish that I saw more of, what Eli's family and their interactions with one another. In all of these stories, the protagonist always seems to gravitate to the more toxic family members. I think this is always done for the dramatic narrative structure. I'm sure that this probably has some basis in reality, but it is always frustrating to see in a movie. I find it funny that the movie tries demonizing Carrie Preston's character. She is fundamentally flawed, sure. She says horrible things, sure. But she is so desperate to help this girl that isn't even her daughter. She says 100 things and one of those things is terrible. I think that's probably the reality of someone who is trying. I found myself defending her because I would rather have the mother who tried than the mother who cares about herself. It isn't that I didn't have sympathy for Lily Taylor's character. I, too, couldn't watch my child die. But I also wouldn't get rid of my child for my own mental health. I think we're supposed to be mad at Lily Taylor and Carrie Preston, but I only found myself angry at Lily Taylor. My wife is always angry at Lily Taylor, so that's nothing new for her.
The movie is filmed very well. It had a bit of a Juno, indie-teen comedy feel to it. Marti Noxon often seems to add humor to her films and To the Bone is no different. Eli tells some really dark jokes and I think it keeps the movie fresh. The only thing I'm concerned with the tone of the movie is that it does feel a bit standard. I am wondering if the Netflix model gives the movie slightly less validity than something that would have started in the movie theater. I watched another movie (Something about Win in the title. It's on this page) and I have already forgotten the title. I remember really enjoying both movies, but they both feel somewhat disposable. Is the Netflix original film model actually doomed? These movies are perfectly fine movies, but the argument that VOD makes the movies feel smaller might be accurate. There is something very important about paying to see these movies on the big screen. Perhaps To the Bone would reach a very different audience had it been released publicly with a marketing campaign to match. Every piece of publicity tied to this movie was something I saw on Facebook as I was scrolling by. It also makes me wonder, why didn't this get released publicly. Golly, now I'm questioning every aspect of my film awareness. Is the movie able to sustain a movie audience? I'm now contemplating the death of the American movie theater all because I watched this movie on Netflix. I should never be the guy who goes to film festivals and bids on distribution rights.
I liked the movie. It is an important movie, but it does feel cheap at times. I think it is because I don't like Hallmark sentiment, even if it is an R-Rated Hallmark sentiment. I don't believe saying "F" your problems will solve them. If it opens a door, I can understand it. But there needs to be real depth and I'm not sure if the movie is able to hit that while wearing both hats.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.