BONES AND ALL movie poster | ©2022 MGM

BONES AND ALL movie poster | ©2022 MGM

Rating: R
Stars: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, André Holland, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Anna Cobb, Chloë Sevigny
Writer: David Kajganich, based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Distributor: MGM
Release Date: November 18, 2022 (Los Angeles & New York); November 23, 2022 (wide)

It’s 1988. Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) is an eighteen-year-old with an unusual compulsion: she is occasionally driven to eat human flesh. Her father (André Holland), who does not share this trait, finally can’t take it. We get the impression that it’s not so much the running and hiding and secrecy that’s worn him down as it is the moral dilemma of whether he should do what’s best for his child, or what’s best for everybody else.

So, Maren’s father leaves her alone with her birth certificate, a little cash, and a cassette tape explaining the few facts he knows about Maren’s history and nature, much of which she used to know but had blotted out of her memory.

Seeking more answers, Maren begins a journey, hoping to find her mother. Along the way, she encounters Sully (Mark Rylance), an older man who shares her compulsion. Sully explains to Maren that people like them, who he calls “eaters,” can smell one another. With practice, they can smell other things as well. Sully is helpful, but he’s not just eccentric, he’s unnerving. Maren decides she doesn’t trust Sully and heads out again.

Then Maren and another of their kind, Lee (Timothée Chalamet), sniff each other out at a diner. Lee is not much older than Maren, he’s attractive, and relatively friendly. He is open to helping Maren on her quest; more, Lee is the first person that Maren has ever met who she feels comfortable talking with honestly about herself. They hit the road together, and their relationship and adventures form the spine of BONES AND ALL.

BONES AND ALL is directed by Luca Guadagnino from a screenplay by David Kajganich, based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis. The story has an intriguing and fresh take on the subject matter. There is obviously built-in conflict, but the real tension here is less between the characters than between the filmmakers’ intent and the material.

Precisely because the mythology in BONES AND ALL is comparatively new, we want to know more about it. A synopsis of DeAngelis’s novel reveals that 1) the title comes from the eaters’ magical method of consuming their victims, leaving no forensic evidence, and 2) different “eaters” are drawn to their victims in different ways, but that Maren is compelled to consume anyone to whom she becomes too close emotionally.

The film jettisons the notion that all “eaters” consume bones and all. Instead, we’re told that when this happens, it’s a transformative experience, but we never find out how that works. We also wonder why there isn’t an FBI task force searching for whoever is leaving human remains with bite marks all over the place; this is 1988, not the Dark Ages.

The notion that Maren devours anyone who might become a soulmate is a potent metaphor. We don’t need it, but some explanation of what triggers her, and Lee, and what allows them their periods of harmlessness seems in order.

However, Guadagnino and Kajganich seem not to care too much about any of this. It appears to be just a set-up for a decent but unexceptional story of young rebellious love on the run. It is absolutely the filmmakers’ right to tell that story, except that they’ve got it superimposed over one that’s much more interesting what they’ve chosen to put in the foreground.

Russell is as sympathetic and dynamic a lead as possible, and Chalamet provides credible support. Rylance finds pathos in Sully’s creepiness, and Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green (director of the current HALLOWEEN trilogy) add to the alarm factor as fellow travelers.

BONES AND ALL is pretty to look at, well-performed, and diverting. It just could have been more than the romantic road movie (with spurts of blood) that it ultimately feels like.

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