“I don’t really get it, you know?” a baffled relative snaps in one of To the Bone’s early scenes. “Just…eat.” But an anorexic like Ellen (Lily Collins) can’t let an unexamined calorie pass her lips any more than an arachnophobe would crawl into a box of spiders, or someone contemplating suicide might suddenly decide to turn that frown upside down.
An arty, hollow-eyed Angeleno who swaddles her gaunt frame in heavy layers of wool and cynicism, Ellen has already burned through multiple failed rehabs when her tightly wound stepmother (True Blood’s Carrie Preston) pushes her toward one more last-ditch treatment. This one, she swears, will be different: an in-patient program overseen by a renegade sort of specialist.
And the good doctor — played by Keanu Reeves as a beardy, brutally honest sage whose voice sounds like a burbling Zen fountain even when he’s dropping F-bombs — does have his own methods: There are no doors in the rooms, to discourage secret purging and cardio binges; mealtimes are mandatory, but every “guest” can eat what they want. Writer-director Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, UnREAL) fills the house with characters, including Leslie Bibb’s pregnant, high-strung bulimic and Tony winner Alex Sharp as a British ballet dancer sidelined by injury. They mostly remain eccentric outlines, though, as do Ellen’s absentee father and her earnest, earthy mom (Lili Taylor), now a happily partnered lesbian living a new life of nut milks and backyard yurts in Arizona. That remove might be partly a function of Ellen’s isolation — a life narrowed down to brittle pinpoints of denial and deprivation. (Though it’s hard not to wonder, too, exactly how Collins’ emaciated frailty was achieved safely on screen).
For young people suffering, the movie offers both hope and clarity; for more experienced viewers, it may come off a little too much like Girl, Interrupted through a Lifetime lens. B