Netflix’s ‘To the Bone’ Offers up a Raw Look at Anorexia

Netflix paid a hefty $8 million to exclusively stream “To the Bone” after a successful premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival – and it’s clear why. The comedy/drama hybrid tells the story of a young woman, Ellen (Lily Collins), dealing with anorexia. In an attempt to help her, Ellen’s step-mother, Susan (Carrie Preston), along with her absent father, biological mother (Lili Taylor) and her partner (Brooke Smith), feel it best to enter Ellen into an unconventional rehab house led by Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves).

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” producer, Marti Noxon makes a solid feature-length directorial debut. Noxon, who in her personal life struggled with anorexia during her early 20s, also penned the script. The semi-autobiographical story offers up an unusually high level of authenticity – digging deep into the psyche of someone with an eating disorder. A scene at the beginning of the film finds Ellen sitting at the kitchen counter as she accurately counts the calories of every item on her dinner plate – including the 75 calories for the butter. It is Noxon’s attention to detail that adds honesty to the picture.

Ellen is a creative and dark soul – tortured by her broken family and the repercussions brought upon by her artwork. Collins’ dedication to the role is very evident as her gaunt physical appearance along with her emotional attachment realistically matches that of someone who struggles with the disorder.

While the film very much centers on Ellen’s recovery, the other inhabitants living within the rehab house maintain compelling stories in their own right. There is Pearl (Maya Eshet), who is stuck to a bed using a feeding tube. Tracy (Ciara Bravo), who binges and purges. Kendra (Linsey McDowell), who can’t stop eating. And most notably, Megan (Leslie Bibb), who must get her disorder under control as she crosses into the second trimester of her pregnancy. All of them suffer from varying degrees of eating disorders – and the audience is soon privy to each of their own ritualistic habits. Each performer holds up to par with their starring counterpart.

Also in the mix is Luke (Alex Sharp), the only male in the house and fellow “rexie,” who encourages Ellen to come out of her shell. The character of Luke serves a greater purpose than most romantic leading archetypes, as he is perhaps the real catalyst for Ellen’s desire to recover.

With funny moments between the house inhabitants, the drama, and more importantly, the depiction of the disease, always remains authentic. Noxon’s knack for storytelling, along with her passion for the subject, is visible. “To the Bone” sheds light on how eating disorders not only affect the individual but everyone around them as well. It is an important film that takes a harrowing look at the disease.

To the Bone” premieres on Netflix July 14.