Down to the Bone (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Sundance hasn't yet achieved the nearly-infallible status of Cannes, where the prize winners are almost guaranteed to be total crap, but by God they are trying. The guiding principle of independent film seems to be that one achieves perfection as the depression level of a film approaches 100 and the slickness approaches 0. Thus, if you have the most depressing film ever made, and it seems to have been made on a home video cam, you can almost be assured that it will come home from Park City with some honors, irrespective of its merits.

So it went with Down to the Bone, which combines two of my least-favorite cinema conceits: "drugs suck," and "life sucks so bad it forces you to take drugs." Vera Farmiga plays a lower middle class housewife who goes through the motions of suburban motherhood in upstate New York, but is actually a serious closet druggie. As time goes on, she becomes less closeted. Then she falls in love with her drug counselor. Then he falls back on his own rehab and stars shooting the big "H." Then she figures, "Oh, what the hell," and follows him. Then she gets arrested ...

Do I need to give any more details? If you watch any independent films, you've seen this all a zillion times before. About the only new wrinkle this film has to offer is that the doomed drug addict is a heterosexual and doesn't like pudding. You can learn something interesting - she is actually a better cashier when coked-out than when sober. Getting clean hurts her job performance. That's a twist.

Oh, did I mention that the film doesn't have an ending? Hoity-toity critics, of course, viewed that as a positive. You know the drill: "offers no easy solutions," "no neat and tidy resolution." It's realistic. Get it? One critic wrote: "The film is so pitch perfect and realistic, it seems you are there with these people, watching their lives unfold before you as it happens." Another comment was, "There was so much verisimilitude I thought I was watching a documentary. This film nails it, addiction, blue collar people, small time life."

That is the film's main strength. If offers a completely realistic portrayal of everyday life and how it relates to her drug cravings. Needless to say, that is also its main weakness. How much of everyday blue collar winter life in upstate New York do you want to watch unfold as it happens, as portrayed in documentary style, photographed by a hand-held video camera in natural light, and never brought to a conclusion? If your answer is "can't get enough," this is your dream-film.

Predictably, 93% of critics gave it a positive review, one of the highest scores of the year.

Vera Farmiga won the L.A. Film Critics award for the best performance of the year last year.

In this film.

Honest. A film that nobody ever saw.

That award sometimes acts as an Oscar harbinger, but in this case it was a harbinger of nothing. Farmiga received no other awards nor nominations during hardware season. The L.A. Film Critics were out there by themselves, presumably standing in left field at Dodger Stadium when they made that announcement. Farmiga does seem like a good actress, a talent she hopes to demonstrate some day in front of an audience, something not possible here. This film only grossed $30,000 in the entire United States, and never played outside of New York and L.A.

Oh, sure, a gross of $30,000 indicates a complete lack of interest in the film, but there is a happy ending to the story. Even though they returned the camera to Rent-a-Center a few days late and incurred a penalty fee, they still made a substantial profit.



  • The widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced - in theory -  but the enhanced image is matted on the sides, as well as on the top and bottom. I've never seen anything comparable.
  • The award-winning short film, Snake Feed, upon which Down to the Bone was based



Vera Farmiga shows her breasts in two scenes.

The Critics Vote ...


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters don't quite see it the same way as critics, rating it a mediocre 5.7 out of 10.  Women rated it far lower (a deplorable 4.2), and women in all age groups liked it far less than the men in the corresponding group.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C-, an arthouse "drugs suck" film which is only for the turtleneck crowd.

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