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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that To the Bone follows Ellen (Lily Collins), a 20-year-old woman with an eating disorder, as she embarks on an uncertain and difficult journey toward recovery. It's not easy to watch; many intense, disturbing scenes show Ellen's struggles with food and body image, as well as those of others who are forced to confront their illnesses. Language is strong, including "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," and more. Characters kiss, cuddle, and have frank conversations about sex (expect references to orgasms, masturbation, and the like). There's also nonsexual nudity related to the main character's continuing health issues. Two scenes include underage drinking and cigarette smoking. Writer-director Marti Noxon tackles a very sensitive issue with the honesty and authenticity that come from having been there herself. While it's clear that her intentions aren't exploitative, there has been concern (some based on the movie's trailer) about the film's possible stereotyping or triggering of negative behavior among those with eating disorders. But rest assured that the movie has thoughtful messages about finding joy and beauty in life, discovering value in ourselves, and learning to survive the bad things that inevitably happen to everyone. It also promotes compassion, empathy, and perseverance.
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What's the story?
Ellen (Lily Collins) hasn't responded to several rounds of intense rehab to help with her anorexia in TO THE BONE. While well-intentioned, Ellen's family -- including mom Judy (Lili Taylor), stepmom Susan (Carrie Preston), and Olive (Brooke Smith), her mother's partner -- proves ineffectual, actually managing to make matters worse, since each has issues that affect everyone's behavior. Only Ellen's half-sister, Kelly (Liana Liberato), seems to connect with the troubled young woman. A referral to Threshold, an in-patient facility for eating disorders that's headed by the unconventional Dr. William Beckham (Keanu Reeves), may be Ellen's last hope. She arrives with a chip on her shoulder and in a physical condition that's clearly fragile. Ellen firmly believes that she cannot eat and that she cannot change or succeed. It's a staggering challenge. And her housemates, including British dancer Lucas (Alex Sharp), are equally at risk. What follows, for Ellen and all those who interact with her, is a precarious journey, with both missteps and small victories that ultimately reveal the resilience of the human spirit.
Is it any good?
Despite its controversial subject matter, Marti Noxon's drama is a moving, believable film made with earnestness, sensitivity, and skill, as well as riveting performances. Candid, painful scenes are intercut with moments of sharp-edged humor and touching romance. Over the course of To the Bone, a largely dysfunctional family is treated with compassion rather than ridicule.
Given that both Noxon and Collins have acknowledged past histories of eating disorders, it’s clear that their intention is to bring authenticity and insight to the subject. To the Bone is a well-made film that should find a wide audience, encouraging empathy and compassion for Ellen and others who face similar challenges.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature and toll of eating disorders. What starts them? Ask teens if they know people struggling with these issues. If they do, have they told anyone? If not, why? Is To the Bone an accurate portrayal? What resources can you use if you or someone you know has an eating disorder?
Writer-director Marti Noxon has said that "[e]ating disorders are problems not of the body but of the soul." Do you agree with her? Why, or why not? Do you think she succeeds in presenting this point of view in To the Bone?
Were you surprised that Lucas had an eating disorder? How does that challenge commonly held stereotypes about those who suffer from eating disorders? Does the media have the responsibility to question stereotypes like these?
How would you describe Ellen's ultimate goal? Does the movie say clearly whether she is/will get there? Which character traits must she call on to achieve it? How does the movie emphasize the importance of compassion, empathy, and perseverance?
Which characters are role models in this movie, and why? Do characters have to be "perfect" to be role models?
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