Keanu had two movies come out this summer, both of which were written and directed by women. The first, The Bad Batch, appears to be a dystopian future tale about some castoffs living in the desert. There may or may not be cannibalism involved and I think Keanu plays a cult leader called The Dream. I don’t need to shake a Magic 8-Ball to know that the odds of me seeing this anytime soon are not good.
The second summer film is our focus for today. A Netflix Original, To the Bone is the creation of Marti Noxon and is based on her history with eating disorders. She was a showrunner on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I’m guessing people were unhappy with some of her choices, because her Twitter bio reads: “I ruined Buffy and I will RUIN YOU TOO.” So how did this film turn out? Also, guess who (kind of) learned how to make gifs?!
Keanu plays a supporting role in this movie: Dr. William Beckham is a highly sought after doctor known for unconventional treatments to help people struggling with eating disorders. I know this because the movie tells us this is so, not because they actually show any radical treatment process. He is a straight shooter, so maybe it counts as unconventional for a doctor to curse and call patients out on their bullshit. The only real character development is that Dr. Beckham has intimacy issues and is married to his job because he can’t and/or won’t put in the effort to have a relationship.
But really the movie is about Ellen, played by Lily Collins (daughter of Phil). She’s a smart ass who gets herself kicked out of eating disorder rehab because she doesn’t seem to take anything seriously. People are worried about how thin she is because she refuses to eat, but her dad (who never appears onscreen) has buried himself in work and her mom moved to Arizona. So it falls to her stepmom, played by the amazing Carrie Preston (shout out to the best character on The Good Wife) to deal with her problems. I know I’m getting old because I totally identify with the stepmom in this movie, as much as she nags and says the wrong thing sometimes and is annoying. But she’s the only one who shows up for Ellen! And she’s trying to help her while also making excuses for her absentee husband in an (unsucessful) attempt to keep Ellen from noticing that her dad is checked out.
The stepmom is the one who gets her in to see the hunky Dr. Beckham, who insists that Ellen live in a treatment house with six other patients. The bulk of this movie is a window into the struggles that people with eating disorders face in trying to get better. For me, the big takeaway was how hard it is on the people who love them and are helpless to do anything. I think the film does a good job showing that there is no one cause of these illnesses, and no magic cure. It’s not as easy as just eating, because their brains rebel against the thought of ingesting calories. It’s also not just about being thin.
The real standout of this movie is Alex Sharp, who won a Tony for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He steals the show every time he’s on screen, and that’s saying a lot because he’s involved in the very unfortunate romantic plot line that threatened to derail this whole film. But kudos to Noxon for recognizing that men can suffer from eating disorders as well.
Keanu does his best to help his patients, even taking them out to visit LACMA’s famed Rain Room. When he shows up to meet them outside the museum, one of the girls says “Damn, Dr. Beck! Are you trying to turn me straight?” and Dr. Beckham deadpans, “That’s a different program.” It’s a little creepy but he did look really good so I’ll allow it.
He tries to get through to Ellen and doesn’t pull any punches about the fact that if she doesn’t change, she’s going to end up dead. But he can’t force her to want to get better. It takes an out-of-body experience for her to look at her emaciated body and decide that she needs to fight for her life. And so the movie ends with her returning to the treatment house in Los Angeles. A hopeful note, but not a guaranteed happy ending.
Much controversy surrounds this movie, but a lot of that started before anyone had seen it, just because of the subject matter. People are worried that it glamorizes anorexia, that the beautiful Lily Collins will be used as “thinspiration,” and that the film will be instructional in the unhealthy habits of eating disorders. I can’t say that it won’t, but I do know there are already plenty of sources on the internet for that stuff.
Anyone who sees what happens to Ellen and aspires to that is probably already struggling with these issues, because she looks terrible by the end of the movie. Noxon says they worked with a nutritionist to help Lily lose weight in a healthy manner, and used make up and special effects. Statistics estimate between eight and 30 million people in the United States struggle with eating disorders; ignoring this topic isn’t going to change that. So if a writer/director and leading actress with personal experience want to make a film that tells a story they think needed to be told, I’m not in a position to contradict them.
What do you guys think? Is it okay for this movie to exist? Apart from that, is it even any good?