Nina is a young teenage girl who has been at a weight loss camp for some time. In her final week, she fails to meet her goal despite all her hard work, which makes her feel despondent.
Desperate to lose more weight, she finds out one fellow camper’s secret to her successful week. But Nina realizes in order to obtain it, she needs to make a deal with the devil — one that will alter her evolving sense of her body and cause her to see it anew.
Writer-director Charlotte Benbeniste’s acutely observed, compassionate drama has a gentle, non-judgmental approach to its characters and subject matter, which endows its main character’s journey with a lovely sense of poeticism, dignity and richness. At heart a coming-of-age story about finding acceptance and appreciation in even the most unexpected places, it also gives richness and centrality to a character often relegated to the sidelines in most mainstream media and storytelling.
The writing has a keen instinct and approach of finding moments that highlight character and milieu in ways that are subtle and astute, and in its understatement and deftly seamless editing and pacing, it has a sense of life unfolding naturally in front of our eyes.
Visually, the film has a muted, naturalistic loveliness, with a softly luminous sense of color and an eye for a uniquely skewed composition. It’s a slightly objective lens, which gracefully captures the diversity of body types in the film’s cast. The film’s visual style is a lesson in telling stories about bodies without turning them into objects, and while Nina becomes the object of desire, the film captures how she takes the moment to experience herself in a way she hasn’t ever considered before.
Actor Kat Christiansen — as part of an excellent ensemble cast that includes actors Clara Nieblas as Paloma and Grayson as Kay — navigates this tricky transition with honesty and portrays Nina with a matter-of-factness that is true to Nina’s feelings and desires in every moment. While she clearly wants to lose weight, there’s more to her than that, and while she enters a questionable situation, she anchors herself in the fullness of her own experience. The fulcrum of the film is this delicate transition, and what emerges goes beyond cliches of victimization or empowerment into something that feels truthful and authentic.
“Bye Bye Body” captures a rare perspective in teen-centered storytelling, but it also captures how growth, evolution and learning as we stumble into adulthood often happen in unexpected ways. Nina enters an experience at a disadvantage, but what she takes away is something that propels her forward on her journey to understanding and knowing herself. Any moment can reveal hidden dimensions to ourselves; any fragment of pain, sorrow or confusion can be the piece that bridges us into wholeness, if only for a moment.