Director: Luca Guadagnino (Italy, USA). Year of Reelease: 2022
Virginia, Some time in the 1980s. Maren, the new girl at school, is playing piano on her own. One of the cool kids comes over to invite her to a sleepover at her house. Maren says that she can’t, as her overprotective father won’t let her out at night. No problem, says the cool kid, just sneak out. So, after dad has locked the door and gone to bed, Maren slips out through her bedroom window and goes to the party.
I’ve not been to any teenage girl sleepovers, but this fulfils all the usual expectations – painting each other’s nails and listening to Duran Duran. When one girl shows her newly painted fingers to Maren, Maren looks at it eagerly, first sucks it seductively, and then takes a big bite. She runs home, where dad gives her an exasperated “not again” look, and tells her she has 3 minutes to pack so that they can flee the area before the cops come to visit.
The opening credits haven’t rolled, and we’re already excited about what’s to come. We learn that Maren’s cannibalistic tendencies were shared by her mother, who she no longer remembers. Dad soon abandons Maren, telling her that he can’t cope with continually having to protect her, and everyone near her. He leaves her a little money, her mother’s birth certificate, and a cassette on which he’s recorded her life story so far, telling her to burn the tape once she’s heard it through.
Maren hops on a coach in the general direction of her mother’s birthplace, and listens on a walkman to tales of her eating baby sitters, kids at camp, and random strangers. When she gets off the coach, she bumps into Sully, a creepy older man with a feathered hat and long plaited grey hair. Sully refers to himself in the third person, confirms that he is also an “Eater”, and says that he recognised Maren was “one of us” by her smell. Maren looks uncomfortable and soon hurries off.
In a convenience store, she sees a man hassling a female customer. Up steps a young man called Lee, who takes the row outside. Lee, played by the inexplicably adored Timothée Chalamet, wears jeans which are more rip than trouser, and red streaks in his hair. He usually wears shirts open to the waist to show his hairless chest, but occasionally opts for a Fugazi T-shirt. Lee swaggers with an affected coolness and thinks he’s deeply misunderstood. To be honest, he’s a bit of a dick.
Oh, and Lee is also a cannibal, which becomes obvious when we see what he means by taking the argument outside. Maren has found a soul mate, and it’s not long before they’re driving through various US States doing – well, what exactly? Sometimes, when they can’t resist their cravings, they stop off for light eats. Other times Maren tracks down her mother. Then she finds mum, and we’re on to the next scene. This is a road movie, where the protagonists aren’t going anywhere.
Here’s the first problem. Maren is still a school girl in her teens, and Lee isn’t much older. Most people of that age just don’t have much interesting to say. Double that when they are a couple in love. For all that we see Maren reading James Joyce and a history of opera, she is not allowed to make any memorable statements. Even when she meets her mother in a mental institution and sees that she has chewed her arms off, she doesn’t have anything to say.
Now you could say that this lack of depth is down to the film being based on a story for Young Adults. But this would be patronising to teenage readers and suggest that we can fob them off with any old nonsense. Besides which, some reviewers have read the original stories and say that they are much superior to what we see on screen. I haven’t read them, so can’t make a reliable judgement, but I sincerely hope that our kids aren’t being fed dross like this.
There’s another problem. Nothing that happens has any consequence. We see a scene, something happens. For most of the time, none of the main characters is particularly affected, and we just move on. On one occasion, Maren is visibly moved. After she and Lee have chowed down on a fair stall operator, she realises he had a wife and kid and is shocked. A subtler film would have made something of their double standards. Here their behaviour just appears to be inconsistent-
Occasionally Sully reappears and acts as if he’s in a completely different film. For most of the time, Maren and Lee are playing out a love story / road movie, with some added blood. The scenes with Sully have an eerie quality which would unnerve us in a different film. But because of everything that preceded and followed these scenes, you just think that the director is allowing Mark Rylance to perform his creepy old man party piece, before we return to some more teenage kissing.
The worst crime of the film, though, is that it is just so bloody boring. It is over 2 hours long, and has 20 minutes of plot, max. This means there is a lot of dead time, even for people who are inexplicably charmed by Chalamet. Yes, there are a couple of well-acted cameos by people like Rylance and Chloë Sevigny (slumming it), but these have so little to do with the actual plot, that all they do is generate false hope that something is actually going to happen. It never does.
For what it’s worth, Bones and All got a standing ovation at Cannes and has been lauded by some critics, who see in it a profundity that just passes me by. Go figure.