The Things You Find On Netflix: To The Bone (dir by Marti Noxon)


Way back in January, when I first heard about To The Bone, I had high hopes for it.

After all, To The Bone was the directorial debut of Marti Noxon, who is well-known both for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for co-creating Unreal.  To The Bone was reportedly based on Noxon’s own struggle with an eating disorder and it was said to feature an outstanding lead performance from Lily Collins as an artist struggling with anorexia.  Even the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor sounded intriguing.

And, to me, it didn’t matter that To The Bone got mixed reviews at Sundance.  Who would seriously expect critics, especially male critics, to understand a movie about body issues and eating disorders?  When I heard that To The Bone had been purchased by Netflix, I did sigh a little.  Far too often, Netflix is where good films end up getting lost in a sea of mediocre offering.  But then again, perhaps To The Bone was exactly the type of intimate character study that would actually benefit from being viewed on a small screen.  After all, it’s not a film about a bunch of space lizard attacking the great wall of China.  It’s a film about a young woman struggling with an eating disorder.

When Netflix finally released To The Bone back in July, I was excited.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To The Bone actually gets off to a pretty good start.  The first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to establishing who Ellie (Lily Collins) is.  She’s 20 years old.  She’s smart.  She’s sarcastic.  She’s an artist.  She’s a college dropout who apparently used to have a very popular tumblr that dealt with being thin.  She’s also anorexic and, from the first minute that we see her, Ellie looks like she’s on the verge of death.  (To the film’s credit, it makes clear that there is a huge difference between being naturally thin and being anorexic.  That’s a distinction that is far too often overlooked.)  We meet Ellie’s dysfunctional family: her frustrated stepmother (Carrie Preston), the father who often can’t be bothered, and the half-sister (Liana Liberato) who both loves and resents her.  The relationship between the two sisters is especially well-handled.  Even if it takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing a compassionate but tough-talking doctor, the film still works during his first few scenes.

Then, Ellie joins Reeves’s inpatient program and moved into a house with six other patients and this is where the film started to annoy me.  Ellie is such a well-drawn and well-acted character that it makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the patients are not.  Instead, the rest of the patients are all easily identifiable types.  As soon as they show up on screen, you know everything about them and you know exactly what is going to happen to each and every one of them.  From the minute that Ellie reluctantly steps into that house, To The Bone starts to feel less like an honest look at anorexia and more like a well-meaning and predictable PSA.  One of the patients is pregnant and always talk about how worried she is that her eating disorder is going to lead to her losing the baby.  Can you guess what happens?

And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is the ballet dancer who is recovering from a knee injury.  As soon as I saw that Luke was the only male in the house, I knew that he was destined to eventually declare his love for Ellie.  But my problem with Luke has less to do with his predictable character arc and more to do with just how annoying a character he is.  Luke is relentlessly upbeat.  Luke constantly tells corny jokes.  Luke just will not stop talking!  When Luke leaves a room, he starts singing a song called Sugar Blues.  When Luke reenters a room, he is still singing Sugar Blues.  SHUT UP, LUKE!

(Whenever Ellie would visit Luke in his room, I would find myself distracted by the posters on his wall.  The majority of them said “Jazz Festival” and featured some saxophone clipart.  As strange as it may sound, it really started to annoy me that there was no date or location listed.  Why would you go through all the trouble of making — or buying, for that matter — a poster for a jazz festival and then not bother to include a date or a location?  That may sound like a minor thing but, as I watched the film, that inauthentic poster came to represent everything that felt inauthentic about Luke as a character.)

I guess the main problem with To The Bone is that it never succeeds in convincing us that the inpatient program is actually going to do any good for Ellie.  It’s not for lack of trying.  However, the scenes in the house are too overwrought and predictably scripted.  There’s a scene where Reeves takes the patients on a field trip and it’s supposed to be inspiring but it doesn’t work because, as a first-time director, Noxon doesn’t trust her material enough to allow us to draw our own conclusions.  Instead, she beats us over the head with her message.  For To The Bone to work, it needed a director like Andrea Arnold, someone who specializes in a naturalistic performances and who is willing to embrace ambiguity and take the time to let a scene play out.  Noxon makes the mistake of not trusting her audience to draw the right conclusion and, as a result, To The Bone goes from being an intriguing character study to being the cinematic equivalent of the last 15 minutes of an episode of Intervention.

Though it all, Lily Collins continues to give a good performance.  Even when she’s forced to deliver some unfortunate dialogue, she’s the best thing about To The Bone.  Unfortunately, the rest of this movie just collapses around her.

Jazz Festival

 

Talking About Love: The Best of Me (dir by Michael Hoffman) and The One I Love (dir by Charlie McDowell)


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When I wrote my review of The Theory of Everything, I mentioned that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time made a brief, if important, appearance in another film released earlier this year.  That film, of course, was the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me.  

Now, I have to admit that The Best Of Me was one of those forgettable films that I kind of suspected most of our readers would not mind me never getting around to reviewing.  It came out two months ago, it got terrible reviews, and it didn’t do much business at the box office.  I didn’t even enjoy it and I’m the girl who always ends up defending the Twilight films whenever the boys here at the Shattered Lens start to make fun of them.  You can tell the impression that the Rest Of Me made on me by the fact that I just got the name wrong and I didn’t even bother to correct my mistake.

But here’s the thing.  January is rapidly approaching and, with January, comes my annual 16 worst films of the year list.  And chances are that The Best Of Me will appear on that list and I’d like to be able to link to a review.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that The Best Of Me is not a good film.  With the exception of The Notebook, the novels of Nicholas Sparks are not known for inspiring good films.  Instead, they are known for inspiring films about achingly pretty people who meet on the beach, have a melodramatic secret in the past, and ultimately end up falling in love.  And dying, of course.  Somebody always has to die.  The familiar Nicholas Sparks formula actually works pretty well when you’re the one reading his prose and visualizing the story in your head.  That’s largely because you can always imagine yourself as the heroine and maybe James Franco, Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Gosling as the hero.  But, when it comes to making movies out of his books, the end results are often so predictable and uninspired that the Nicholas Sparks drinking game had to be legally banned after scores of single women fell ill with alcohol poisoning.

(Yes, that actually did happen!  Google it! …. or don’t.  Actually, don’t.)

The Best Of Me is, without a doubt, the most Nicholas Sparksian Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever made.  Seriously, it has everything that you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks film and it presents it all so predictably that watching the movie is a bit like watching a checklist.  We’ve got two former high school lovers who are reunited 20 years later.  We’ve got melodrama that comes out of nowhere.  We’ve got multiple flashbacks.  We’ve got soft focus cinematography.  And, of course, we’ve got an ending that is meant to be both tragic and inspiring but it’s neither because, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, we already knew that the ending was going to try to be both tragic and inspiring.

What we don’t have is much chemistry between the two lead actors.  James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are both pretty in the way that people in Nicholas Sparks films often are but you never get the feeling that they have much affection for each other.  Even worse, in the flashbacks, their characters are played by two actors (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) who look absolutely nothing like James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan.  In particular, it’s impossible to believe that Luke Bracey could ever grow up to look like James Marsden.  I found myself half-expecting a huge twist where Marsden would reveal that he was an intruder.

And you know what?

That would have been a lot more interesting than what we got!  Somebody help me get in touch with Nicholas Sparks!  I’ve got some ideas for his next book!

The One I Love

For a far more memorable look at love and relationships, allow me to suggest The One I Love, a film that was obviously made for a lot less money than The Best of Me but which is also a lot more thought-provoking.

In The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the verge of breaking up.  At the suggestion of their friendly-yet-creepy marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they agree to spend a weekend at a beautiful but remote house.  Danson assures them that they will be the only couple at the house. Duplass and Moss agree and, at first, the weekend seems to be working.  However, soon both of them start having conversations and encounters that the other claims to not remember.  Duplass and Moss discover that they are not alone at the house…

And to tell you anything else about the plot would be unfair.  The One I Love is one of those films that works best when the viewer discovers its mysteries at the same time as the characters.  To spoil the film would be a crime.  Let’s just say that there is a twist that will leave you reconsidering everything that you’ve previously seen in the movie.

Beyond that twist, however, The One I Love works for the exact reason that The Best of Me does not.  Moss and Duplass have the chemistry that the leads in The Best Of Me lack.  You believe them both as individuals and as a couple.

So, when it comes time to consider what we talk about when we talk about love, check out The One I Love and leave The Best Of Me behind.

Back to School #79: If I Stay (dir by R.J. Cutler)


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17 year-old Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) appears to have everything that a girl could want.  She has a wonderful, if somewhat goofy, father in former musician-turned-teacher Denny (Joshua Leonard).  She has a loving mother, a travel agent named Kat (Mirelle Enos).  She has an adorable little brother (Jakob Davies), a loyal best friend (Liana Liberato), and — best of all — she has an older boyfriend named Adam (Jamie Blackley), who is on the verge of rock stardom.  Even better, Mia has a wonderful future ahead of her.  A musical prodigy, Mia is cello player who is waiting to hear whether or not she’s been accepted to Julliard.

And then, one day on a snowy road, it all changes.  There’s a car accident.  Both Denny and Kat are killed.  Mia’s brother is several injured.  And Mia in a coma.  While her friends and what remains of her family watch over her at the hospital, Mia has an out-of-body experience.  She walks through the hallways of the hospital, she listens to her loved ones as they struggle to accept what has happened, and she remembers all of the days that came before the accident.  She remembers first meeting Adam.  She remembers falling in love with him.  She remembers their fights and then she remembers her family and she realizes that she’s facing a future without any of them.  Ultimately, Mia has to decide whether to wake up and stay or to die and perhaps be at peace.

Based on an excellent novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay is a tear jerker in the best sense of the word.  Yes, the film has been clearly designed to make you cry but what’s wrong with that?  Sometimes, crying is the best thing that one can do and, much like The Fault In Our Stars, the film’s tears are earned.  As directed by R.J. Cutler, the film strikes a deliberate and telling contrast between Mia’s lively memories and the stark coldness of the hospital through which she now finds herself wandering.  Joshua Leonard and Mirelle Enos bring a lot of life to the roles of the doomed parents and Stacy Keach is great as Mia’s grandfather.  (Try not to cry when he tells the comatose Mia that it’s okay to move on.  I dare you!)

Finally, Chloe Grace Mortez gives a wonderful and soulful performance of Mia.  Moretz is one of those young actresses who always seems to be both wise beyond her years and painfully fragile as well.  If I Stay contains yet another strong performance from her, one that elevates the entire film.  That said, I hope she gets to do a nice romantic comedy at some point in the future because, after all the trauma she’s acted out in everything from Kick-Ass to Texas Killing Fields to Carrie to If I Stay, she’s earned it!

As for If I Stay, it’s still playing at theaters even as I write this review.  If you haven’t already, go see it.

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