Netflix’s anorexia drama To The Bone premieres on the streaming service Friday, and the project has been plagued with controversy since it debuted at Sundance earlier this year amidst criticisms of “glamorizing” eating disorders while featuring triggering subject matter and imagery. The release of the film’s trailer back in June certainly did nothing to quell those objections, seeming to portray the subject under the guise of a quirky, heartwarming dramedy set to a twee pop soundtrack — drawing obvious comparisons to Netflix’s other controversial project, 13 Reasons Why. In both cases, the internet outrage was swift and merciless, with think pieces coming in hard and fast.
It seems only fair to give To The Bone the benefit of the doubt, however, especially since it’s based loosely on the early life of writer and director Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Men, UnREAL), who struggled with a life-threatening eating disorder as a teen. Noxon’s film centers around Ellen, a cynical, anorexic 20-year-old artist (played by a terrifyingly gaunt Lily Collins) who winds up at the home of her father (who never appears on screen), overbearing stepmother Susan (True Blood‘s Carrie Preston), and wisecracking stepsister Kelly (Liana Liberato) after getting the boot from her latest in-patient facility.
With nowhere left to turn, and not welcome at the home her mother (Lili Taylor) shares with her lesbian partner, Ellen agrees to an ultimatum set by her stepmother that she give one more facility a shot, one run by the “unconventional” Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves) — who seems to be unconventional mostly in the sense that he “tells it like it is” and says the F-word a lot. With no other real option on the table, Ellen moves into the group home run by Beckham and a housemother of sorts, played by a sadly underused Retta. Once in the home Ellen gradually (but never fully) begins to let her guard down to Dr. Beckham and her fellow housemate Luke (Broadway actor Alex Sharp) a London-born ballet dancer from New Jersey with whom she forms a bond.