A powerful story about anorexia starring a paper-thin Lily Collins drew tears and applause at its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday.
“To the Bone” is TV veteran Marti Noxon’s directorial film debut, a semi-autobiographical story about a young woman finding a path out of a potentially fatal illness. Noxon is a respected veteran of shows from “Grey’s Anatomy” to the Lifetime series “UnREAL.”
At the premiere, Collins said she too had struggled with anorexia as a teenager, and felt an immediate connection to the project. Playing the role of Ellen, a 20-year-old woman resisting her family’s pleas to open up to treatment, was cathartic, she said.
“To step into shoes I thought I’d moved on from 10 years later was terrifying,” she said at the q-and-a after the screening, which was greeted with thunderous applause. “But this was about healing. It was a form of therapy for me.”
To many, anorexia remains a frustrating illness that comes with both the privileges and complexities of industrialized society and its obsession with image. Is the victim seeking attention? Dealing with an addiction to not eat? Why can’t they just heal themselves?
In “To the Bone,” it becomes clear that it’s not that simple. Ellen, a budding artist with a typically complicated home life (dad is MIA, mom turned gay, etc.), knows fully that if she does not begin to eat she will die. And yet she cannot seem to choose life by eating. Collins’ performance is nuanced and a testament to her deep understanding of her character’s struggle.
Keanu Reaves plays her hard-nosed therapist, who insists that Ellen grow up — “grow a pair,” as Ellen describes the theory — and live with the reality that life disappoints and the world is imperfect.
And in a moving scene, Ellen’s mother (the always-excellent Lily Taylor) desperately tries to save her daughter from the brink by offering to feed her as if she were still a baby.
Both of those things happened to Noxon, she said, and were important to her eventual recovery.
The film is for sale.