Jul 14

“To the Bone”: Intensive Treatment of Anorexia

Today is the Netflix opening of Marti Noxon‘s To the Bone, which focuses on anorexia. Both Noxon and lead actress Lily Collins have dealt with eating disorders in their own lives.

Responding to those who’ve criticized the film in advance, Melanie McFarland, Salon, states that To the Bone “is an admirable and empathetic work that does not romanticize anorexia or the young woman being ground into nothingness by the disease, as some have feared.”

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter, sets up the plot and main characters:

Gaunt and expressionless, Ellen (Collins) is first seen making a humorous but also offensive sign at what turns out to be her fourth in-patient treatment, which leads to her being kicked out again. A few quick scenes establish the situation back home in Los Angeles, where her father is never present; her occasionally borderline inappropriate, endlessly talkative but also somewhat frosty step-mom, Susan (Carrie Preston), tries to overcompensate; and Ellen’s half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), is kinder but has secretly been suffering, too, from having to deal with having a ‘freak sister’ with a disorder. Her real mom, Judy (Lili Taylor), ‘a lesbian with bipolar disorder,’ as per Susan, has moved to Arizona to be with her no-nonsense girlfriend, Olive (Brooke Smith).

The Trailer

Depiction of Treatment Program

For her fifth intensive treatment stint, Ellen winds up in a program run by Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves). States Nick Allen, rogerebert.com:

…Noxon’s narrative gets its main focus when she is brought to the house, where the rules start to take place. There are no doors in the house, no cell phones, and points are earned by doing chores, which can be used to have time away from the house. We also meet other residents of various conditions, like Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is often in bed with a tube in her nose, former dancer Luke (Alex Sharp), who lost a great deal of weight after an injury, and even a character played by Leslie Bibb, who is pregnant despite the thinness of her body, and is working hard to safely deliver the baby. Ellen wrestles with whether she wants to be better, facing her self-hatred, due in part to a disturbing past.

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “Beckham is seen only sparingly, in the sidelines as a paternal ghost who suggests a nicer version of Ellen’s unseen father, who can’t be bothered to attend her family therapy session, which devolves into a litany of accusations.”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, is one of those who’s less than impressed:

…[Dr. Beckham] proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone else’s (they’re not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do). He also clearly enjoys his power over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional film would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctor’s version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who can fix women.

Selected Reviews

Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter: “…an occasionally harrowing but sometimes also surprisingly warm and funny tale that, while the characters focus a lot on eating (or, rather, not eating), is really more about finding the will and self-love necessary to live rather than about dealing with an eating disorder.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety: “While not downright irreverent, this is the kind of anorexia movie where characters crack jokes about not wanting to visit the Holocaust Museum, lest they feel guilty for starving themselves. ‘To the Bone’ would hardly qualify as a comedy, but it doesn’t take the kid-gloves approach either — in fact, its attitude seems almost ruthlessly pitiless at times…”

Hadley Freeman, The Guardian: “…(W)hen all a movie about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with food, and that this makes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.”