Bones and All (2022)
What do you get when you team up Oscar-nominated director Luca Guadagnino, twee handsome man Timothee Chalamet, and the ravenous consumption of human flesh? You get the new indie drama Bones and All, a literal love story between cannibals. It’s boy-meets-girl-meets-dinner.
It’s 1980s Reagan America, and Maren (Taylor Sheridan) is in high school and not allowed out to parties for a good reason. Her father (Andre Holland) nails her bedroom window shut, and we soon realize why when, at a slumber party, Maren eats one of her friend’s fingers. It’s back on the run except Maren’s father has finally had enough. He leaves her behind one morning with a tape recorder to explain. Maren travels to the Midwest and discovers other Eaters, those afflicted with her same impulses. One of them is the young man Lee (Chalamet), who Maren decides to follow. They can look out for one another, but what’s to be done when the hunger strikes, and how far will they go to feed?
Bones and All is a doomed Romeo and Juliet romance with its own provocative subversion. I was hooked for the first half of the movie, as the script slowly revealed that these cannibals are born this way and their compulsion may also give them super powers, like the ability to smell their own kind as well as key characteristics, like a last feeding or even when a person may be close to death. The movie plays along the fringes of a monster or superhero formula, where we have people with extraordinary abilities, or a curse they must keep hidden depending upon your perspective, and how this challenges their vulnerability and sense of self. It’s reminiscent of vampirism, the need to feed, so we’ve seen aspects of this kind of story dozens and dozens of times, but the world and rules can still be engrossing to learn. Maren and Lee trade stories of their “first time,” though in this context it’s the first time they fed on human flesh, and it so happens both are with a traumatized babysitter. It’s a morbid bonding experience but such is partnering with a person who shares your unorthodox appetites. I was getting shades of Bonnie and Clyde, with our cross-country duo keeping on the run, and also Let the Right One In, where a man is reluctantly killing in order to feed and protect his ward. There’s also the 2017 French film Raw with a young woman discovering her family trait of cannibalism. The source material of Bones and All is a 2016 YA novel by Camille DeAngelis and the script feels very much like the total of its many pop-cultural and literary influences.
There’s still something compelling here about two oddballs finding a person who understand their unique situation. The addiction analogy is apt and provides an interesting discovery, as both Maren and Lee inherited their eating habits from a parent similarly affected. Maren’s search for her biological mother is a solid direction as it also promises a search for answers. Russell (Netflix’s Lost in Space, Escape Room) is an understated but captivating lead. Her character has never been out on her own and doesn’t know much about a larger world of Eaters, so every encounter is her stretching her boundaries and discovering what she is capable of. She also needs to learn how to better live with her impulses, or whether she even can, and being paired with a more experienced companion allows her to explore those feelings with better understanding. Chalamet (Dune) is part scraggly drifter, part twink prostitute, part deceitful vampire, and part sensitive boyfriend. In other words, he fits right in as a brooding Byronic love interest that Maren questions how close she can allow herself to be in his presence. The us-against-the-world sensibility of young and/or forbidden love is amplified with the extra genre trappings. In many ways, Bones and All feels like a strange amalgamation of Guadagnino’s last two movies, the 2018 gory remake of Suspiria and the 2017 tender gay romance, Call Me By Your Name.
Where the movie starts to lag is its second half, which is built upon two conflicts that feel inadequately developed. The first, and biggest, is the relationship between Maren and Lee. It’s natural for Maren to be wary of Lee early on, especially with how much is at stake if either one of them. There’s also the danger of being alone with a cannibal, much like befriending a wild animal and always having to keep one eye open. It becomes a guessing game of trust and compulsion, can either control their urges? However, the romantic coupling between Maren and Lee felt very distant, as if the movie intended for them to be these star-crossed lovers and instead both of them looked at each other and shrugged and settled on being friends. It’s not that there isn’t really any heat or chemistry there. I can ignore that when both members are struggling to control how much of themselves they offer to the other. It’s a relationship built upon mutual survival and the occasional make out, but the difference between the two of them is at once emphatically stated and then casually ignored. The big hiccup for a Maren/Lee relationship seems to be that Lee will kill people in order to feed and Maren disagrees with this. You would think over the course of their time together the movie would follow one of two directions: 1) Lee’s willingness to kill for food becomes more extreme and Maren is pushed away, or 2) Maren begins to share in Lee’s willingness to kill and changes her moral outlook. Neither of these really happen, so when Maren considers leaving Lee’s company, I was left wondering what changed. He’s presented as dangerous, but he doesn’t become more unhinged, and there isn’t a point of no return for their relationship. I didn’t feel much when this union was arbitrarily was put on pause.
The other conflict is an external one and a nag. I thought there would be more attention about Lee and Maren having to hide from encroaching law enforcement. Instead, it’s another Eater who becomes a stalker, and this character would have been best served as a one-sequence passing weirdo. The reappearances feel contrived and poorly integrated once the fledgling Lee/Maren relationship takes center stage. There isn’t enough to the character to deliver with multiple appearances. The fact that this character plays such a big role in the second half is a letdown. If Lee and Maren were worried about people coming after them, why not the police tracking them for the murders they leave behind? Why not even a gang of Eaters that have decided there is even more security in number and have no compunctions over eating their own kind? That topic isn’t even explored, whether eating an Eater would be even more compelling. You could even have someone deem themselves a Super Eater who seeks out other Eaters to consume, either because he or she feels they are an even more exquisite taste/addiction, or because they have a self-righteous sense of purpose and feel eliminating other Eaters will protect the innocent they feed upon. It’s not even expressed whether they have to eat living people or if old corpses could suffice. There are different external threats that could have been better developed and integrated, so it’s a shame that the one we have is given so much more attention than deserved.
With every movie, it’s important to judge what you’re presented rather than what could have been; it would be unfair judging a hamburger at a restaurant for not being a pizza. Still, I felt like the more compelling perspective to tell this cannibal love story was a parent protecting a child rather than as disaffected teenagers. I thought following Maren’s father from raising her and realizing she had a problem but ignoring it until he couldn’t, and then his challenges to reign in her impulses, would be the more compelling and dramatically charged point of view. It doubles down on the theme of what a parent would do for their child, as well as the personal fear of every parent whether they are capably raising the child to be a moral and self-sufficient adult. Then you mix in the possibility of the genetic lineage for cannibalism, and you can have the parent trying to pass down their knowledge to their progeny or the parent feeling immense guilt for bringing this would-be innocent into a situation that may spell their doom. Every time the narrative went back to Maren listening to her father’s audio narration, I felt like I was getting a bigger picture of the weight of the years of raising Maren. I suppose that also might lean a little heavily into a similar Let the Right One In dynamic. I understand that Bones and All is an adaptation of a YA novel and young outsider lovers is par for the course with the genre, so I wouldn’t expect such a radical adaptation even if it feels like a superior story perspective for drama.
Even as things didn’t fully come together for me, I was always interested in Bones and All for its two-hour duration. It’s not every day that genuine artists are putting their all into a love story that also involves chewing the nipple off a dying man. It didn’t really work as a romance for me because I didn’t really feel invested in the coupling of our main characters. There is so much more intriguing dramatic potential here with these story particulars that I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the end results hewing very closely to YA staples. More could have been explored in the romance, especially what nourished the attraction and what would compel Maren to rethink her feelings. As a gauzy, young lovers-against-the-world drama, it has its melancholic pleasures and diversions, one of which is that it was filmed primarily in southern Ohio. It was also filmed in Columbus, so I got to point to the screen and say, “Hey, I recognize that Greyhound bus station” (that was the extent of the Columbus filming, one five-second external cutaway). Bones and All can surprise plenty of viewers, and I’m positive many will be swooning from its mixture of romance and depravity, but the bigger surprise for me was that it left me ultimately hungry for more of everything.
Nate’s Grade: B-
Posted on December 2, 2022, in 2022 Movies and tagged dark, doomed romance, drama, indie, luca guadagnino, mark rylance, michael stuhlbarg, ohio, period film, timothee chalamet. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.