Wandering into Bones and All, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Truthfully, I didn’t rush to the trailer because I figured that I knew what was coming. It had all the hallmarks of a teenage coming-of-age story. It would be potentially weepy, definitely emotional and with director Luca Guadagnino at the helm, be a solid entry to Awards Season cinema. Well kids, it turns out, I knew nothing. Never judge a book by its cover.
Bones and All follows a young woman (Taylor Russell) who’s coming to terms with life. She’s eighteen, she’s living a rough existence with her father (André Holland). However, there’s one other problem. She’s an “eater.” She can’t stifle an urge to eat other human beings.
As she strikes out on her own to find her birth mother, Maren (Russell) discovers she’s not alone and there are in fact people like her, for good and for bad. Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg co-star in the movie. Luca Guadagnino directs the film from a script by David Kajganich.
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So if Bonnie and Clyde were “they’re young, they’re in love and they kill people”, Maren and Lee (Chalamet) are young, in love and they eat people.
Bones and All easily maintains (largely) an interesting and decidedly complicated tone. This movie sits squarely at the intersection of character drama, swoony gen-z romantic drama… and bloody cannibalism horror movie.
Should this bevy of contrasting tones work well together? No. However, they somehow manage to do just that! Color me surprised!
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Bones and All comes from director Luca Guadagnino, best known for his work on the 2017 coming-of-age, romantic drama, Call Me By Your Name. This time out, the director reunites with his Call Me By Your Name co-lead Chalamet as well as co-star Stuhlbarg. Bones and All is a comfortable, meandering film with Guadagnino doing exactly what he does best.
The filmmaker brings his standard gossamer shine to the visuals. Guadagnino possesses a flare for making anything on-screen look elegant and dreamy. His trademark shooting style is a presence all on its own. His direction creates a fascinating tonal complexity in a gritty, rough and frankly, very bloody story.
At the same time, Bones and All is grounded in a real and relatable world in and around the midwestern United States. Maren travels through rural locations in states Kentucky, Nebraska, Illinois and more. This isn’t the land of fantasy. This is pure and unflinching reality. Suddenly, everything is that much more frightening. If these eaters could exist in your neighborhood grocery store, they could exist anywhere.
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Meanwhile, the blend of newcomers and established stars in Bones and All results in a sensitive chemistry between this talented cast. Each finds a grounded and complex humanity in this fantastical narrative further establishing the story in our all-too-familiar world.
Taylor Russell has been coming up in the industry for the better part of the last decade. While she’s scored roles in critically acclaimed movies like Waves, she’s probably best known for her work as Judy in Netflix’s Lost in Space remake.
Stepping into the lead role, Russell brings a charisma and sensitivity. She is the glue holding this story together. In the wrong hands, Maren is an entitled, annoying brat. However, in Russell’s capable hands, it’s easy to want her to succeed. This eater deserves love too.
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While Russell and Chalamet both hold down the fort as the movie’s romantic leads, Mark Rylance comes out of left field and steals the movie out from under everyone’s feet.
The Oscar-winning actor cuts a terrifying presence as fellow eater Sully. He hangs over the narrative like a shadow bringing an unhinged quality to this wildcard character. Sully is worrisome for one very precise reason: as far as he’s concerned, he isn’t doing anything wrong.
A similar rave can be given to performer (and Guadagnino regular) Michael Stuhlbarg. The stalwart “character actor” crafts a memorable (and equally terrifying) persona with one short on-screen appearance and five minutes of screen time. That takes skill.
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When all is said and done, the horror narrative is ultimately the more interesting story in this complex script. The romance desperately wants to be relatable, but the story doesn’t seem to know just how to use Chalamet as Lee.
Kajganich’s script crafts Lee as a mysterious bad boy with a heart of gold. When Maren first meets him at the grocery store, he’s hunting for food. He too is an “eater”. However, the cannibalism is almost acceptable because he targets a man being mean to a single mother.
Lee is distant with a traumatic family history he doesn’t want to talk about. With his pink hair, he’s the brooding, artsy boy we might have had a crush on in high school. He feels very “YA.” It isn’t until much deeper into the narrative that we truly get to know him and he feels like more than simply a fan-fiction “Larry Sue.”
In the grand scheme of things, Bones and All swings for the fences. The final product is a movie that feels fully and completely original and in that, we can’t complain. While it doesn’t quite land all of its punches, the movie hitting screens this week is sure to delight and intrigue. Fans of this talented cast (particularly Timothée Chalamet), and suckers for anything YA (as long as blood isn’t an issue) are sure to enjoy this movie.
Bones and All opens in select theaters around the country on November 18 before opening wide on November 23.
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