Following the story of Ellen, a 20-year-old who has spent her teenage years drifting between recovery and relapse, the film is one that has particular personal resonance for both writer-director Marti Noxon, for whom To The Bone is semi-autobiographical, and for lead actress Lily Collins. As a result of the difficult subject matter, however, it has already courted controversy, with Netflix and To The Bone's stars having to fend off accusations that the story might glamorize anorexia.
Before its launch, here's what you should know about the film — and the heated debate it has sparked online.
The film's star, Lily Collins, is an eating disorder survivor.
At the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where the film premiered to rave reviews, the actress opened up for the first time about having suffered from an eating disorderas a teenager. Despite knowing that she would have to lose a considerable amount of weight for the role, Lily revealed that she felt compelled to take on the project to start a public conversation about a topic that often feels taboo.
"I retracted [at first] because I thought, I am 10 years [over my eating disorder]," she told Vanity Fair at the festival. "Why would I want to put myself back in that situation? And I read the script, and right away I was just in awe. Because it is not just a story about anorexia. It is so much more. And I felt like my journey and my experiences could benefit [others]. And I knew that with Marti involved, this could help me face a fear again."
Lily has since revealed that she was actually complimented upon her weight loss for the role, despite making it clear that she'd only made the change in order to play an anorexic.
"I was leaving my apartment one day and someone I've known for a long time, my mom's age, said to me, 'Oh, wow, look at you!' the actress revealed to Net-A-Porter's The Edit.
"I tried to explain [I had lost weight for a role about an anorexic] and she goes, 'No! I want to know what you're doing, you look great!' I got into the car with my mom and said, 'That is why the problem exists.'"
What's the backlash about?
Despite the fact that the full feature is yet to arrive online, the trailer for To The Bone was met with considerable backlash online from anorexia survivors and from eating disorder specialists. Of course, the ethical dilemmas of representing eating disorders on screen are manifold.
The majority of critics were (rightly) concerned that the film, which stars an actress who has a large fan base of young girls, might glamorize anorexia or, again as a result of Collins' casting, might imply that there is only one type of eating disorder, or an 'ideal' ED patient (thin, white, young and female). Plus, with the trailer featuring scenes that directly reference obsessive calorie counting and compulsive exercise, many were rightfully concerned about the potentially triggering effects for ED survivors.
It's for this reason that comparisons have already been drawn with 13 Reasons Why, the Netflix teen drama which stoked controversy for its presentation of teen suicide and sexual assault: again, the streaming service was criticized for "glorifying" suicide, and failing to provide adequate trigger warnings for viewers (warnings which have since been added to specific episodes of the show).
In response to these criticisms, director and writer Marti Noxon (herself an eating disorder survivor) took to Twitter to voice her views, stating that her aim was not to "glamorize" a serious medical condition, but to provide a "conversation starter" about an issue which is rarely discussed openly and frankly.
"Having struggled with anorexia and bulimia well into my 20s, I know first hand the struggle, isolation and shame a person feels when they are in the grips of this illness," she wrote.
"In an effort to tell this story as responsibly as we could, we spoke with other survivors and worked with [charity] Project Heal throughout production in the hopes of being truth in a way that wasn’t exploitative. That said, it’s important to remember that each person’s battle with [eating disorders] is unique and To The Bone is just one of the millions of ED stories that could be told in the US at this very moment. My goal with the film was not to glamorize EDs, but to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconception."
Who else stars in To The Bone?
Joining Lily is Keanu Reeves, who plays the doctor heading up the non-traditional recovery program to which Ellen's family sign her up, helping her to confront the reality of her condition and begin to accept herself. Carrie Preston steps into the step-mother role, while Alex Sharp (who'll next star opposite Elle Fanning in '70s-set space drama How To Talk To Girls At Parties) plays Ellen's friend Luke, also a patient at the eating disorder clinic.
When and where can I watch To The Bone?
To the Bone will launch globally on Netflix on July 14, 2017, from which point you'll be able to stream wherever, whenever.
This post was written by Katie Rosseinsky. It originally appeared on our sister site, Grazia Daily.
If you or a friend need help finding treatment for an eating disorder, there are tons of helpful resources out there. A great place to start is nationaleatingdisorders.org.
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