Marti Noxon and Lily Collins tell THR about the real-life basis of the controversial dramedy, which debuts July 14.
To The Bone stars Lily Collins as Ellen, a young woman who makes a last attempt to conquer her severe anorexia by entering a group recovery home. Keanu Reeves plays the home’s lead doctor, Carrie Preston plays her stepmother, and Alex Sharp, Alanna Ubach and Retta are among those who help her through the program.
The dramedy, which Netflix acquired after it premiered at Sundance to positive reviews, debuts in limited theaters and on the platform on July 14. THR’s film critic called it “occasionally harrowing but also surprisingly warm and funny.”
The film is based on the experiences of Marti Noxon, who created the Bravo series Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce and helped launch the Lifetime drama UnReal. Noxon, who makes her feature directorial debut with the movie, spent much of her teens and early 20s in and out of hospitals. “In writing this, I didn’t want to try to show the particularities of this one ism, but to talk about the underlying issues,” Noxon (second from right, above) tells THR. “Eating disorders for me, like substance abuse [for others], was me wanting to escape a certain pain or level of feeling that I didn’t want to have, and until I faced those feelings, I wasn’t going to get better. I think that’s universal — it’s no different from using drugs or alcohol or any other thing to not feel.”
Collins herself also suffered from anorexia in real life. She received the script while writing about her own experience for her recently-released memoir, and was drawn to its authenticity as well as its surprising sense of humor. “It was so serendipitous,” Collins recalls. “I feel very fortunate to have had the experience when your life’s mission and the mission of a movie so brilliantly get to be intertwined.”
The recovery program portrayed onscreen is a relatively unconventional one for those with eating disorders, as its residents aren’t urged to focus directly on upping their food consumption. While there, they only need to adhere to a few rules, like sitting through meals together, whether they eat or not. Bathrooms are momentarily locked after mealtimes, laxatives and barf bags are contraband, and calories and weight are taboo topics.
Also off the table: any discussion of culpability. For example, when Collins says during a family therapy session, “I’m sorry that I’m not a person anymore, I’m a problem and it’s all my fault,” Reeves responds without hesitation, “F— fault. Fault and blame have no place here. Only how you want to live moving forward, who you want to be.”
Though Noxon was never in a group home — since “at the time I was sick, there was no such thing as specialty recovery homes for eating issues,” she says — the program is rooted in her actual recovery and Reeves’ character is based on her doctor. “He’s 80 years old and still practicing, and can still look right into my soul,” she explains. “I had been hyper-focused on trying to re-nourish for a long time, and that hadn’t helped me. He felt I needed to go on this journey, hit bottom and have a moment of clarity where I saw I wanted a life outside of this. Once I had that experience, I was able to start fighting in a way that I hadn’t before.”
When the trailer debuted last month, it stirred controversy for its portrayal of anorexia — and trigger potential — on social media. Coincidentally, the reaction followed the mixed reception of 13 Reasons Why, the Netflix series that includes a graphic — and arguably glamorized — portrayal of suicide.
Yet both Noxon and Collins, who attended Anorexics Anonymous group meetings and consulted with multiple medical professionals and organizations like Project Heal before shooting began, assert that they set out to create a responsible portrayal of the disease.
“The two-minute-and-thirty-second trailer doesn’t show the entire scope of the movie,” says Collins. “Having experienced this subject matter and gone through the disorder, we would never seek out to make a movie that fetishizes or encourages or glamorizes the disorder in any way, shape or form. I’m proud to be part of a film that brings this conversation to light, and I hope that when people finally see it the way it was meant to be seen — in its entirety — they can understand where our intentions came from. But if you feel like this movie may be, for you, a form of trigger, maybe it’s something that only you know you shouldn’t watch.”
“Even though [13 Reasons Why and To The Bone] are totally different projects in tone and subject matter, [that show] raised awareness about how to talk about stuff,” adds Noxon, whose script addresses the topic of trigger. “There’s this culture where now, anyone can find anything they want to look at, and use any image or piece of art as a justification for things they’d be doing anyway, or find something disturbing and provocative in a way that’s not good for them. But that doesn’t mean the art itself is dangerous or that we shouldn’t make art. This question of free speech is so important right now, but the point is, it’s free and not enforced. It’s up to people to decide what they consume.”
Noxon hopes To The Bone speaks specifically to its viewers. “We knew it could be emotional and wanted it to be something that created hope and acts as a springboard for people to seek help — there are a million different ways to recover from something like this, but to start that journey is a big decision,” she says. “If [eating disorders are] something they didn’t understand, I hope they walk away saying, ‘I understand it a little better, and I believe you can get better.’ Both Lily and I are standing here today —you really can get past it.”
Collins echoes, “I hope it creates an empathy around the subject matter with people who don’t know a lot about it, and prompts further conversation about something that some people think isn’t common enough to talk about. Rather, it’s becoming more prevalent, and it’s not age specific or gender specific. It should be discussed more.”
And in a general sense, Collins hopes the movie highlights that “seeking help is never a sign of weakness, it’s a strength, regardless of what it is you want help with,” says the actress. “You’re not alone in your struggles, and sometimes the things you feel most alone in are actually the most universal, and it takes talking about them to realize that.”