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66th BFI London Film Festival: Bones and All

Photo: Courtesy MGM

One can’t help but stifle a chuckle at the irony. Luca Guadagnino becomes a household name after releasing Call Me By Your Name, a tender, vibrant, period-set coming of age romance, it’s star Armie Hammer fades from the public eye because of some extremely troubling and surprisingly credible allegations of cannibalism, and Guadagnino follows it up with another tender, vibrant period-set coming of age romance, starring Hammie’s co-star Timothee Chalamet, this one—Bones and All—explicitly about cannibals. Surely not a coincidence, right?

Whatever. There’s a shadow that looms large over Bones and All and it’s not Mr. Hammer. It’s Badlands, or more generally, any of the many New Hollywood movies about destructive youngsters at war with themselves and society. Out of the Blue came most readily to my mind, but there’s a lot of Bonnie and Clyde in there, and yes, a ton of Near Dark, cause these kids have a little more reason than most to see themselves as outsiders, placing it as much in the tradition of American Gothic as typical Americana. The film’s film-grain aesthetic makes its genre roots explicit, as does the early ’80s setting.

Bones and All functions mostly as a reworking of the tropes these earlier films established and it’s hard to look past this pastiche. The films it’s riffing on were no doubt seminal works of American myth-making, exploring a generation lost and confused, where counterculture had rejected the corrupt, stultifying traditions of the first half of the century, but efforts to sow the seeds of something new had fallen on parched earth. It’s a very different time now but we’re still faced with those self-same problems, albeit refracted through new lenses. Bones and All is pretty committed to the lenses of its forebears though, and I can’t blame viewers who walk away from it feeling like they’d just put on what they thought was a new original only to hear a cover version instead. Still, there’s little doubting the huge talents of Guadagnino and co. who’ve assembled a film that at the very least equals the exterior beauty and internal roughness of its best influences.

The film stars Taylour Russell as Maren, who we first meet as a stranger in a new high school, only for it to quickly become abundantly clear why her father (a typically thoughtful and sensitive Andre Holland) feels the need to keep her on the move and prevent her from socializing with her peers. Left to sort her s—t out on her own, she soon discovers there are others like her out in the world and begins her search for answers. Not petty queries about her origins, but deeper questions about who she will become now, possible answers to which arrive first in the form of the creepy Sully (an off the walls performance by Mark Rylance) and thence by sexy bad boy Lee (Timothee Chalamet, giving possibly his best performance yet).

What follows is in the mold of other hard-edged coming-of-age romances, to such a degree that the whole cannibalism thing starts to feel almost like an afterthought. It does get very literal with it sometimes, at others so obtuse it starts to feel silly, honestly. Like an ambitious mash-up of Raw and Paris Texas or Badlands and Doctor Sleep. The film does have its tongue in cheek moments, and some extremely sincere ones, and finds success and failure in both. It would be a lie to say that the film manages to make the plot an effective vehicle for the story it’s telling, but like many a road movie, it’s the character’s inner journeys that cover the most mileage. Maren’s journey to discovering who she is and what she wants reaches some devastating pitches of intensity, as does her romance with Lee and his battle with his own demons, and Russell and Chalamet play it beautifully. Chalamet in particular resists the pull of his own matinee idol potential. Lee might look like a flashy poser, but Chalamet gives Lee’s troubled spirit wings, and gets you to believe he exists.

More than any of those other movies I’ve mentioned, Bones and All is an extremely human story about one young woman’s growth and two broken people finding solace in one another’s sympathy. I’ve heard it described as the most romantic movie of the year and yeah, there are moments in the third act that really hit home. Even if not every bend in its road works, Bones and All still finds a way to sink its teeth into you.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

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