© 2023 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Aside from the cannibalism 'Bones and All' is not that interesting

Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell in “Bones And All.”
Yannis Drakoulidis
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell in “Bones And All.”

I thought I was the only one. Now I meet… two others in a week.

This is the sort of line you might expect in a movie from a YA novel—a young woman is on the road, drifting from town to town, because there’s something different about her that keeps her from connecting with other people. What you might not expect is that what’s different about her is that she has an insatiable need to eat human flesh.

Yes, she’s a cannibal. Bones and All is based on the book of the same name, and it tells the story of Maren, an 18-year-old who’s only just realizing her lot in life, and she sets out to find her long-lost mother, traveling across the country however she can with the little money she has. Hard as it may be to believe, Maren does come across other people like her, other “eaters,” as one of them says. And, naturally, one of the other eaters is a young man, with whom she develops a romance, as she learns about herself and what it means to find someone else who gets you, all while wrestling with the obvious moral complication of taking big ol’ bites out of other people.

The movie hits the notes you’re used to from this kind of story, plus, you know, cannibalism, and what this ends up meaning is that it’s not ultimately all that interesting once you get past that initial shock. Director Luca Guadagnino does his best to maintain that shock, with plenty of dreadful, stomach-churning moments, but what he doesn’t do is fill the movie with any kind of emotional truth. He nods in that direction, with the shots of rolling plains at the magic hour, but very little of it ever makes you feel anything. It’s as if the cannibalism is enough as a novelty or, at best, a strained metaphor. But it’s not enough. Taylor Russell, who plays Maren, is terrific, and is the one part of the film that feels real. But Timothée Chalamet, playing her love interest, is running on autopilot, and he simply can’t match her.

The movie features a lot of recognizable faces in small roles, some of which are fantastic, some of which are monstrously irritating. But the film does itself an enormous disservice by using the director David Gordon Green in one of those cameos, because the instant I saw him, I realized how much more interested I would be in a version of this movie that he’d directed. Green’s early films had exactly the kind of ethereal, emotionally resonant feeling that Bones and All needed to succeed, and seeing him made it all too clear what this movie was missing.

Guadagnino and Chalamet worked together for the gorgeous, aching young romance Call Me By Your Name, but here they seem to have forgotten what made that movie work. They’ve forgotten to include the truth.

Bones and All is in theaters.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.