Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: TO THE BONE: Healing the Body By Healing the Heart [Sundance 2017]

Keanu Reeves Lily Collins To The Bone Review

To The Bone Review

To The Bone (2017), Film Review from the 33rd Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Marti Noxon, starring Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor, Alex Sharp, and Liana Liberato.

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has yet to reveal the winners of its competition lineup, but one thing is clear: not only is To The Bone one of the best films featured at the festival this year, it’s also one of the best films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing at the festival over the past seven years.

This surprisingly deep and powerful drama provides Lily Collins a career-making role as Ellen, a twenty-year-old woman who commits to one last chance at overcoming her eating disorder through inpatient treatment with an unconventional doctor, William (Keanu Reeves). She takes up residence in a group home with other patients where they are free to eat as much or as little as they please, bond over their shared sense of humor about their disorders, and support each other (or not) in recovery.

The film manages a perfect tone for tackling such a sensitive and complicated issue. Much-needed levity appears in the form of Ellen’s stepmother (Carrie Preston), whose unfiltered, nervous ramblings mask a clear concern and genuine love for her stepdaughter. In fact, Ellen’s father doesn’t enter the picture in this largely female-driven film. In fact, it’s quite amusing to witness the explosive nature of Ellen’s three mothers (her biological mother, played by Lili Taylor, shows up with her lesbian partner) during a family therapy session.

Which brings us, perhaps, to the film’s greatest strength: showcasing the effect Ellen’s eating disorder has on those around her. Her sister Kelly’s exasperations, voiced brilliantly by Liana Liberato, are a core piece of this family therapy session. A first impression might be that Kelly is selfishly overstepping her bounds during a process primarily meant to assist Ellen, but by the end of the scene it’s clear that Ellen’s stubborn disorder is merely a symptom of much greater systemic family dysfunction. As always, an emotional issue (or issues) underly more visible somatic signs.

The filmmakers ought to be commended for the authentic – and often unflinching – portrayal of a serious disorder that affects millions of people. Great care is taken to illustrate that the disorder isn’t just Ellen’s responsibility, that Ellen isn’t a bad person. But at the same time, the filmmakers also go to great lengths to ensure that no personal in Ellen’s orbit takes the blame either. The family’s dysfunction is explored, sure, but the efforts are focused on healing, not blaming. I am sure that many viewers whom this issue personally touches will feel the catharsis that comes from watching Ellen’s inspiring emotional journey towards optimal health.

Another element of the film that the filmmakers ought to be praised for is their inclusion of a key scene near the end of the film that explores what many audiences may not know is actually Gestalt Therapy. The re-enactment of key childhood needs that Ellen never received clearly made some audience members uncomfortable, but it was touching, sweet, and resonates in a deep way with the truth of the story. The message? While this disorder afflicts Ellen, she cannot tackle it successfully on her own. She needs to reconnect with others around her, as well as with her True Self, to heal the body by healing her heart.

To The Bone is screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in the competitive U.S. Dramatic competition category and has been acquired by Netflix for $8 million for a planned 2017 release on the streaming service. 

Rating: 8/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

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