The cinema of the Italian director Luca Guadagnino loves outsiders, but not nearly half as much as it loves itself. This most self-satisfied of contemporary filmographies set out its stall with the preening mock-Visconti epic I Am Love, then proceeded via the much-garlanded, suspiciously middling Call Me By Your Name to a needlessly elongated remake of Suspiria that might have sunk less confident careers. (A recent diversion into prestige TV - with HBO's We Are What We Are - yielded interesting scenes, moments and ideas, and at least two episodes too many.) Like many of his fellow countrymen, Guadagnino may just be a sweet talker: now he's persuaded Warner Bros. and MGM to go halves on Bones and All, an 18-rated YA fable that revisits Reagan's America from the perspective of a roving network of cannibals obliged to exist on the fringes of polite society - like hangry hobos - as a consequence of their unruly urges. Anything appalling lurking in that set-up has been redressed in this filmmaker's trademark pall of romanticism. Our heroes are a photogenic pair of runaways (Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet); they're engaged in a centuries-old battle between youth and old age, as represented here by Mark Rylance in tighty-whities and offputting dentistry, and Guadagnino regular Michael Stuhlbarg, whose overalls-and-lank hair combo exudes a distinctly Texas Chainsaw vibe. None of that with Tay-Tay and Tim-Tim, who presumably represent the golden generation of gizzard gobblers, #1 and #2 on Vice's list of the Hottest Flesheaters Under 30, a line Guadagnino holds to from the movie's first, swoony close-up of flesh being torn from bone by Russell's insistent teeth. Cannibalism: it's just smooching for daredevils!
Now: were you sixteen or seventeen - and thus notionally too young to see Bones and All in cinemas - you might well find Guadagnino's film a profound, life-changing experience, not least because it takes seriously the fantasy of running off with (and eventually nibbling on) Little Timmy Caramel. (No matter that he appears especially twerpish here, with his ineptly dyed hair and wideboy hats. Just as there's apparently no longer any accounting for taste in movies, so too it would seem there's no accounting for taste in boys.) Should you be even a year or two older, however, I'd venture you're more likely to find B&A somewhere between innately silly and kinda goofy, which may at least permit some form of enjoyment. One reason Guadagnino has worked so consistently over the past decade is that he has some of the basics down: he can do place and atmosphere in his sleep, which makes for saleable trailers and showreels, and offers stretches of diversion here as the kids wind their way across magic-hour America, waiting for darkness to fall like vampires with a more demanding bite. (Something tells me Guadagnino is one of those who proclaims the Twilight movies didn't fuck hard enough, and that this point was made - time and again, and loudly - in pitch meetings.) Over two hours twenty, however, the film proves more dithery than restless: for long patches, our heroes look to be driving the backroads in search of anything like a compelling plot. The movie has two modes: wanly picaresque Americana, after the fashion of Andrea Arnold's equally wide-eyed American Honey, and sudden, wrenching weirdness, which extends beyond the protagonists' extreme dietary requirements to a flash of an institutionalised Chloe Sevigny (as Russell's mother) with CG stumps for hands. (Taking food off the table of actors with actual stumps for hands, one would have thought.) There are miles of ground separating the pretty from the horrific, and Guadagnino's artless lurching between them is where the silliness begins to creep in. That he also drifts away from the damaged grown-ups who represent B&A's most interesting characters is merely emblematic of the mistakes the American cinema has been making for the better part of this century.
Bones & All is now playing in cinemas nationwide.