Bones And All Review: A Bloody Brilliant Tale Of Young Love On The Run [Venice]

The most revealing moment in Luca Guadagnino's cannibal romance "Bones and All" occurs in a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" instant. The two young lovers, Taylor Russell's impressionable Maren and Timothée Chalamet's loose cannon Lee, pull closer to kiss for the first time. They come ever nearer, and at the very instant their lips graze on another, Chalamet cheats out toward the camera and betrays a slight grimace. At that very instant, Guadagnino cuts to the next scene.

"Bones and All" remains true to the core of its source material, Camille DeAngelis' young adult novel of the same name. This is still a heterosexual romance between two young Americans who find themselves on the margins because of their forbidden taste for flesh. But Guadagnino constructs layers of complimentary meaning atop David Kajganich's screenplay. These internal filters, such as Chalamet's stolen glance, complicate any simple interpretation of the film. Focusing on the text itself is only half the story without factoring in how Guadagnino undermines the surface-level read.

There are any number of ways to unpack "Bones and All," but the one that jumps out most immediately is a queer reading of the film's themes. (It should be obvious, but this does not mean establishing some kind of equivalency between cannibalism and queerness.) Guadagnino's consistent subversion of gendered expectation, presentation, and attraction suggests a larger commentary within his untidy allegory.

Fleshing out the metaphor

Guadagnino's latest film makes for a fascinating counterpoint to his previous collaboration with Chalamet, 2017's "Call Me By Your Name." Unlike that film's clandestine gay courtship, which occurs under the auspices of an Italian estate populated by at least nominally tolerant intellectuals, "Bones and All" explores unexpected desire from the shadows of Reaganite wreckage in middle America. After a titillated Maren devours a female friend's finger at a sleepover, her single father (André Holland) forces her to uproot her life and hit the road. It's amidst the detritus of America's forgotten spaces that she begins to encounter others who share her bloodlust.

Eighteen-year-old Maren's senses are still unformed, but she quickly discovers how other cannibals can simply smell each other out. The radar tingles first for Sully (Mark Rylance), a crafty cannibal who's learned to spot easy marks among the aged and infirm. But her heart beats most for Lee, a lithe young'un who trades on his wiles to make meals of his marks. Lee serves as a siren call for insecure people, particularly men, who only require the slightest nudge to indulge their basest instincts of anger or desire.

While Maren becomes just the latest person enmeshed in Lee's seductive solicitousness, she manages to slowly chip away at his protective defenses to see inside. The two kindred spirits hit the road together across a dilapidated landscape in search of their next fleshy feast. These two outlaws with a sexual tension bordering on dysfunction may recall "Bonnie & Clyde," but don't expect the thrill of criminality and carnality to go hand-in-hand.

The pair unavoidably gravitates back toward the comfort of their family. The binding force between Maren and Lee is not just love or lust; it's their search for validation and acceptance from their own blood relatives. The free-wheeling appeal of the road pales in comparison to their need for a home with another person who can see them for who and what they are – and still accept them anyway. It's a struggle that ought to resonate with viewers of all dietary preferences.

A sincere, swooning romance

Though the very nature of stacked subtexts introduces an element of irony into "Bones and All," the marrow of the tale remains remarkably and hopelessly romantic. Subversion does not inhibit Guadagnino's sense of sincerity. In fact, it only serves to amplify the beauty of two itinerant souls finding refuge in shared struggle and striving.

"Bones and All" swoons for its central couple as they forge an intimate connection in vulnerability and vice. While there is certainly a sensual component to their relationship, this simply feels like a physical manifestation of the spiritual level on which Maren and Lee connect. It can please both the literal and metaphorically minded, supporting any number of interpretations and reads.

The film can contain these multitudes thanks to the earnestly emotional performances of its lead actors even as they navigate many strange scenarios. Taylor Russell imbues Maren with the same ethereal innocence she brought to her breakout role in 2019's "Waves." As the film moves from thrilling to chilling to heart-warming, she's a steadying presence and emotional bedrock. She can be a bit of a blank slate, yet she's also a reflective one. Russell is capable of illuminating "Bones and All" by bouncing back the vibrant energy of the other characters.

The Chalamet show

The chief source of that light pouring into "Bones and All" comes from Timothée Chalamet's soulful, stringy Lee. Luca Guadagnino made Chalamet's star five years ago, and he continues to shape it here. No other director matches his ability to pour Chalamet's limber physicality and raw emotionality into the vessel of a fully formed character. His magnetic drifter recalls the spell cast by River Phoenix in "My Private Idaho" but is even more indelible for the way he comes to wear his heart on his grungy sleeve.

Chalamet embodies in body and spirit how Lee's lanky, laconic performance of hapless masculine abandon is tied to an instinctual avoidance of the emotions he fears. Though the character cannot be aware of the impulses animating his slick operating, the performer is in complete command of Lee's psyche. Chalamet makes more controlled movements as Lee than he did as the often-spasmodic Elio, but the characters share a similar fumbling for the verbal and physical vocabulary to express their innermost feelings.

Guadagnino hits the "adult" part of YA hard in "Bones and All" with his sophisticated take on various ties forged in flight and bound in blood. The romance is a soaring spectacle to witness unfold, but it becomes a Trojan horse to explore notions of how and where people find validation. The film's embrace of two lovers does not close ranks around them, instead opening its arms to welcome anyone who has ever felt like a disowned outcast.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10