Shortly after being announced, Netflix’s original To The Bone found itself in the middle of controversy. Similar to another Netflix production, the hit series 13 Reasons Why, To The Bone was conceived to raise awareness on a difficult and taboo topic, in this case, anorexia. Despite the good intentions, the film created by Marti Norton, raised concerns for potentially exacerbating the stigma around eating disorders, their glamorization and for being triggering to sufferers in the process of recovering.
Truth to be told, To The Bone, is not easy to watch. The film carries a mental health warning telling audiences that the realistic images to be depicted might be harmful. A few minutes into the movie, we see a shot of Lily Collin’s extremely tin frame (The actor lost weight specifically for the part.) The shocking image is very difficult to digest. However, the film did not romanticise the anorexia as this was portrayed in a negative light; to transmit how the disorder affected Collin’s character, Eli. In the rest of the movie, little of her body was shown, only when it was pivotal to the plot. To The Bone then, cleverly manages this aspect and doesn’t fall into the category of those crude films which only goal seems to shock their audience with crude images.
To The Bone is based on the real experiences of Marti Norton’s, which provides a realistic look at the lives of people suffering from an ED and it’s not just a shallow attempt to portray them. Norton doesn’t limit the script to the medical processes but also focuses on her character’s internal world. This is shown by Eli’s isolation from the people, her family in particular. “I’m sorry for not being a normal person,” she says in front of bewildered family members who try to support her but fail to understand her. They speak of how Eli’s sickness has affected their lives, which shows how egoistic people can be, even when they care for someone. As a result, Eli is a lonely, grumpy and pessimistic character.
Eli, although the protagonist, is not the sole focus of the movie since other characters with EDs are introduced. Eli moves to a house with other patients in treatment. The characters are a diverse crowd that serves to break the false connotations usually associated with eating disorders: that only white, skinny women are the ones who suffer from this.
Despite its good points, the plot felt lack-luster and generic which drags To The Bone to a young adult romance territory, of the likes of The Fault in Our Stars. This happens when Luke, another patient and Eli’s housemate begins to take an interest in her to her initial annoyance. He’s got a hero complex and some dubious motivations that make his character cringy and made me disappointed as I felt the movie was losing its focus.
To The Bone’s strength lies in its characters. Lily Collins gives a stellar performance as Eli, transmitting perfectly his isolation and her frustration with herself. Keanu Reeves, although with limited appearances, gives a surprising and different performance (being used to his roles in action flicks) as Eli’s unorthodox doctor, who refuses to fix her life magically as she and us, the audience, would expect. He believes in her, in his way, and knows the key to her recovery lies in her own hands.
To The Bone might not be perfect, but you can tell it tries to grow awareness on an issue society sometimes chooses to ignore or even condemn knowing next to nothing about it. It’s true that it can impact people who are beginning to recover from an ED, since it might relieve memories, but whoever it’s planning on watching it knows in which position they right know and decide whether this would be the right decision or not.