To The Bone

Studio: Netflix
Directed by Marti Noxon

Jul 12, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Although she’s worked on many television shows over the last two decades, Marti Noxon is probably best known as a long-running writer/director/executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, eventually serving as showrunner for the final two seasons. Its influence is easy to spot in her directorial debut, To the Bone, although the film is not nearly as successful or unique in its examination of teenage suffering.

Heavily informed by Noxon’s own experiences as a teen, To the Bone follows Ellen, a young L.A. artist struggling with anorexia. After years of failed treatments, her step-mother enrolls her in a halfway house for anorexics – “rexies” in the probably accurate but still obnoxious parlance of the film – overseen by an unorthodox doctor. Despite the lack of genre elements, the touchstones with Buffy are numerous. As played by Lily Collins, Ellen is a snarky cynic with a bruised heart of gold and the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her fellow rexies in the halfway house are a group of quirky misfits, including a chatterbox British love interest. Her father is wholly absent and every adult in her life is useless and/or self-obsessed, except for Keanu Reeves as her new doctor, a laid-back, straight-shooting authority figure; the Watcher to her Slayer.

If nothing else, Noxon makes it clear that this material is deeply personal to her. The film is wholly devoted to the daily routine of a person afflicted by this disease and offers several details that only someone who had been through this experience would know to include. Ellen’s back bruises, resulting from compulsive sit-ups to burn calories, are a particularly memorable touch. Such details end up being few and far between though. On a scene-to-scene basis, there’s not much to differentiate this from any number of dramas about drug addicts or people suffering from severe depression, beyond the principle actors looking dangerously underweight. Noxon structures and shoots the film like a Lifetime movie, albeit with more cursing and a darker color palette. There are points where the film seems like it’s going to get uncharacteristically dark, but it inevitably falls back on formulaic catharsis via a pair of scenes in the third act that would likely cause unintentional laughter if this were opening in theaters rather than on Netflix.

Anorexia is a horrific disease, moreso than others because it can be easily conceptualized by anyone. Every one of us has felt the occasional pang of hunger, if only for a few moments. The prospect of being trapped in that state indefinitely by your own mind is visceral and upsetting on a bone-deep level. To the Bone never quite succeeds in placing the viewer in the mindset of someone suffering from this ailment. The direction is too pedestrian, the script too generic and the film as a whole is more concerned with reassurance than with confrontation. I doubt this film will bring any new understanding of this disease to people who don’t suffer from it, although it’s not hard to see it succeeding as a support mechanism for those that do.

Author rating: 4/10

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