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Sensitive 'To the Bone' dares to dramatize eating disorders

Published July 17, 2017 9:59 am

Review • Noxon deftly handles controversial material.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Longtime TV writer/producer Marti Noxon makes a sure-footed feature directorial debut with "To the Bone," a drama about eating disorders that doesn't feel clich├ęd or hectoring.

Ellen (Lily Collins) has anorexia and has been through various in-patient and other treatments with little to show for it. She has just left Phoenix, where her fragile mom (Lili Taylor) lives with her New Agey wife, Olive (Brooke Smith), to stay with her never-seen father; her prim stepmom, Susan (Carrie Preston); and her half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato).

Ellen gets a last-ditch opportunity at treatment with an unconventional but much sought-after doctor, Dr. Beckham (Keanu Reeves). She moves into a treatment facility, a house with six other patients dealing with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating.

Ellen — who's sort of a celebrity in the eating-disorder community after her online artwork was cited by a girl who starved herself to death — resists Beckham's tough-love measures at first, but soon settles into the house's routines and befriends the other patients. She gets particularly drawn to Luke (Alex Sharp), a ballet dancer with a damaged knee and a struggle with anorexia.

Noxon, who wrote and directed, has called "To the Bone" semi-autobiographical, because she has dealt with eating disorders in her own life. That familiarity with the subject comes through in the sharp details of Ellen's and the other patients' disorders. Noxon (who created "The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" and was a longtime showrunner for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") also leavens the subject's seriousness with perfectly calibrated dark humor.

Collins gives a touching performance as a young woman who isn't sure she's worthy of being saved. She leads a strong ensemble cast that includes Alanna Ubach and Leslie Bibb. The nicest surprise is Reeves, who gives the most down-to-earth performance of his career.

Considering all the issues "To the Bone" covers, the movie easily could have devolved into a bad Lifetime movie — and, even without doing so, has opened a debate about whether such movies glamorize dangerous behavior. It's a credit to Noxon's sterling wit, and her great sensitivity, that the movie delivers a powerful emotional punch as it explores a problem many are afraid to touch.

movies@sltrib.com —


'To the Bone'

A young anorexic enters a treatment center, meeting fellow patients and a charismatic doctor, in this sensitively rendered drama.

Where • Streaming on Netflix.

When • Starting Friday, July 14.

Rating • Not rated, but probably R for nudity, sexual references, language and mature themes.

Running time • 107 minutes.






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