Now Playing — Bones and All

It’s quite a lovely thing, director Luca Guadagnino wants us to know, when outcasts find each other. Based on a novel by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All follows Maren (Taylor Russell), an eighteen-year-old girl who’s spent most of her life guarding the secret that she’s compelled to eat human flesh. It’s less a daily necessity — she gets by on pancakes, bacon, and other more conventional fare — than a force that overtakes her from time to time, just often enough that her beleaguered father (André Holland) has clearly adapted their modest household to a go-bag existence. When her father finally abandons Maren, leaving behind a birth certificate that provides previously unknown information to her about her family history, she goes on a quest to explore that past, quickly encounters others who have a similar yen for ladies’ fingers and other related delicacies. Among those is Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a scrawny, twenty-something hipster who becomes a traveling companion and then a romantic partner.

Working from a screenplay by regular collaborator David Kajganich, Guadagnino presents this story with a sense of blunted romanticism and woozily deadpan horror. In regards to the latter, there’s a lot of blood and torn-flesh gore in Bones and All, and yet Guadagnino’s attentiveness to all this human carnage rarely comes across as sordid or deliberately challenging in the manner of a conventional movie shocker. It’s merely an extension of the same fascination with anatomy that is more benign in his previous efforts such as Call Me By Your Name or the fine HBO series We Are Who We Are (and the less benign iteration of that fascination found in his remake of Suspiria). Instinctively mapping out all this tissue and fluid that makes up a person is simply part of figuring out the contours of our shared humanity. It’s another way of sinking one’s teeth into juicy existential questions. That it comes across a method with a bleakly comic tinge strangely doesn’t make it any less sincere.

The thematic satisfaction of the film is occasionally compromised by a rickety text. Guadagnino is primarily engaged with developing feeling and tone, and plot points occasionally arrive with phantom justification beyond keeping the proceedings moving along with the expected act-break turns. A little narrative spackling applied to the plot holes would do the trick, but Guadagnino seems unconcerned, convinced the performances will bridge those gaps. To his and the actors credit, that strategy works pretty well, especially because Russell skillfully signals Maren’s dawning understanding and associated sense of self. There’s also a nice contrast between the downbeat, largely restrained acting by Russell and Chalamet and the more overheated turns from supporting cast members, such as Mark Rylance and Michael Stuhlbarg. It’s another means to emphasizing the bond between the lead characters.

Bones and All is strange and unsettling by design, but those descriptors can be accurately used in assessing all versions of moving into young adulthood while feeling apart from everyone else. Life is a mess no matter how it’s sliced. Maybe the best anyone can hope for is to find someone to hold their bloody hands as they figure it out.

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