For years, Hollywood has had issues with addressing eating disorders. Countless movies and shows have either sugarcoated it such as the controversial Netflix film To The Bone starring Lily Collins, or even worse, made a joke out of it, acting as if it’s something fake, a prime example being the short-lived ABC sitcom The Real O’Neals where there’s an entire bit about the athletic older brother being anorexic. When Brittany Snow opened up about her battle with anorexia in a 2007 op-ed, she was unjustly slammed as an “attention-seeker.” Years later, she mentioned that, while she doesn’t regret opening up to the public about her struggles, it was at a time when there was a stigma around mental health. Over the last several years, the public has started to become much more accepting and aware of mental health, wiping away that ugly stigma that scared many away from opening up. Snow’s directorial debut Parachute feels like a breath of fresh air. This is a film that’s more focused on its characters rather than trying to preach a message to its audience as she invites viewers to take a walk in someone else’s shoes.

The film opens with Riley (Courtney Eaton) a young woman struggling with an eating disorder who has recently checked out of a rehab facility. She’s slowly trying to put her life back together, getting a job at a struggling murder mystery dinner theater, and seeking out advice from her therapist (Gina Rodriguez) and her best friend Casey (Francesca Reale). Despite her best efforts, Riley is still haunted by her own personal demons, from continuously checking her Instagram and comparing her body image to problematic influencers, binge-eating, and closing herself off from finding love or hearing what she actually needs to hear. While at a bar one night, Riley meets Ethan (Thomas Mann), the quirky and charismatic roommate of Casey’s boyfriend Justin (Scott Mescudi). The two hit it off quickly as they seem to have an understanding of each other’s baggage and will occasionally have casual sex. However, Ethan clearly wants more. It’s not that he’s desperate, more that he senses that feeling of unconditional love, which breaks his heart when she ultimately chases after other guys.

Parachute‘s small budget is occasionally noticeable and some of the devices that Snow toys with don’t always work (the slide-show montages and handheld camera shots in particular aren’t as effective), yet because of the lead performance from Eaton and the powerful script co-written by Becca Gleason, the film ultimately packs a punch. It never once glamorizes or makes light of Riley’s eating disorder. That’s not to say that the film is constantly depressing, but it allows us to see the ups and downs that life brings her over the course of the movie. It’s brutally honest yet reassuring as Snow and Gleason’s script has a clear understanding of Riley’s struggles. The film also provides some insight into Ethan, including his estranged relationship with his alcoholic father Jamie (Joel McHale) which adds an extra layer of depth.

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Outside of Riley and Ethan, the rest of the ensemble doesn’t ever get too much to do. Big stars like Dave Bautista, Mescudi, and Rodriquez will pop in and out, but those who watch the movie simply for its impressive cast may be a little bit let down. At the same time, this isn’t the kind of movie that those names are usually a part of. Truthfully, this isn’t the kind of movie that Snow would be a part of, but it also makes the film’s messaging and subject matter feel much more honest and therapeutic.

As previously stated, a lot of the film’s strengths rely just as much on Eaton’s performance as it does on the script and direction. Eaton is exceptional as Riley and feels believable in the role, capturing not only the physical components of the character but also her delivery and showing emotion that never feels melodramatic or overacted. Eaton makes Riley come alive and feel like a real person and not some walking stereotype of those who struggle with mental illness. Her character constantly laments about feeling chubby, when she’s far from it, eats out of fridges that aren’t even hers and doesn’t have much confidence in herself, yet through Eaton’s performance the audience is able to feel a lot of empathy for her. It is not out of pity but because we truly want to see her improve upon herself. Eaton isn’t a newcomer by any means, she’s appeared in high-profile projects like Mad Max: Fury Road and Yellowjackets, but has never been given the headlining role. Her performance in Parachute has the strong possibility of taking her career to new heights. Mann turns in serviceable work as the film’s male lead, but does feel outshone by Eaton for the majority of his screen time.

The film’s 100-minute runtime also feels messy. It is said to take place over the course of several years, yet it never truly conveys the passage of time outside a couple of lines of dialogue. The film is never necessarily a slow burn nor does it feel too draining. At times, some of the emotional moments feel hindered by this. While the use of montages populated by celluloid photos is occasionally used to show the changes that these characters face over time, it doesn’t always work the way that Snow likely wanted it to.

Snow clearly shows potential as a filmmaker, but Parachute is very much a first film. She experiments with different techniques and much like many other filmmakers in their first film, not everything works. Still, the blood, sweat, and tears that she pours into this film are always evident. This is not a work that’s going to win any major awards or be a smash hit at the box office, but it clearly never was meant to be that. It’s an incredibly personal film, and will likely speak to plenty of young women and men who are struggling with the issues that Riley and Ethan are. It’s difficult to really criticize a film like Parachute because of how sincere it feels. It’s not without its shortcomings, but Snow’s passion is always there.

Rating: B

Parachute premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.

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