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Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet play Lee and Maren in "Bones and All." Photo courtesy of IMDb.

REVIEW: Cannibal romance ‘Bones and All’ doesn’t bite off as much as it could chew

While we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the long gestating follow-up to 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name,” fans of director Luca Guadagnino and star Timothée Chalamet can rest easy after the wide release of the pair’s newest collaboration, “Bones and All,” on Wednesday, Nov. 23. While the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Your Name,” even mid-Guadagnino is better than most directors’ best.

The film is an adaptation of the 2015 novel of the same name written by Camille DeAngelis and follows Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell) as she roams through the Midwest, abandoned by her father (André Holland) after the two skipped town when Maren devoured a friend’s finger at a sleepover. She eventually meets fellow cannibal Lee (Chalamet), and the two quickly fall in love.

In an interview with Indiewire, Guadagnino stated that he “believe(s) in the intelligence of people.” Sure, but this doesn’t come across in the film. You should trust your audience enough to understand that they should care about the protagonists without incessantly shoving this idea down their throats — something that “Bones and All” does quite frequently.

At face value, it makes sense: cannibalistic characters are not typically the good guys (this is not to say suggest protagonists are always the good guys), but I (and most likely many others) came to watch this film with the knowledge that the main characters were cannibals. The repetition of lines like, “we need to do this to survive,” and  “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just born this way” gave the impression that Guadagnino did not trust his audience enough to care about these characters, warts and all. At best, it’s annoying and at worst, it completely takes you out of the film.

To Guadagnino’s credit, though, the cannibalism in the film is approached with a level of realism and sincerity that keeps the film from feeling comical or unbelievable. There’s lots of blood, yes, but it doesn’t feel excessive; all of the blood and gore feel like necessary byproducts of what is taking place.

But even still, there’s an asterisk to this that comes in the form of Mark Rylance’s character, Sully — an experienced “eater” who Maren encounters early in the film that imparts some important tips but ultimately becomes obsessed with her. Rylance’s performance was certainly one of my favorite parts, but it also feels like one of the film’s looser elements. Sully borders on full-blown caricature, which could afford the film some self-awareness, but it’s next to impossible to discern the intentionality of the exaggeration.

One person in the film with a distinct lack of self-awareness is Chalamet, who is as annoying here as he is in nearly every film he’s been in since “Lady Bird.” Lee never feels like a real person, only a vague idea of some teenager who maybe could have existed in the Midwest in the 1980s. Chalamet’s performance never rises above melodrama.

Russell is also, unfortunately, not that great, but to no fault of her own. She’s doing the most she can with a script that affords her character no discernable personality besides being a bookworm — the go-to trait for male writers to make their empty female leads seem “different” and “cool.”

All of this being said, there’s still a lot here that does work. Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography makes the Midwest seem like somewhere I’d actually want to live, with gorgeous skylines and colorful sunsets. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is also fantastic, demonstrating another successful departure from their typical style vis-à-vis 2020’s “Mank.” Guadagnino’s directing is also as sharp as ever, only further cementing his position as one of the modern masters.

At the end of the day, “Bones and All” is, simply put, a disappointment. Fans of Chalamet are certain to be pleased, but anyone looking for anything more than a pretty-looking, pleasant way to kill 2 hours, 10 minutes should look elsewhere.

John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JScott050901

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