Adult Life Skills (2016)
D/W: Rachel Tunnard. DP: Bet Rourich. Starring: Jodie Whittaker/Lorraine Ashbourne/Brett Goldstein/Rachael Deering/Eileen Davies/Ozzy Meyers/Edward Hogg/Alice Lowe.
The next little British film that could has arrived. Adult Life Skills is now out in the UK after a promising reception at the Tribeca Film Festival. Predominately funded by British money, the film centers on Anna (Jodie Whitaker) who it turning thirty, but is trapped in her own grief over the recent loss of her twin brother. She also happens to be living out in the shed in her mother’s garden. You could call it, coming of age into adulthood. A necessary evil experience.
First time writer and director Rachel Tunnard handles her film deftly. She also edited the film as well as she works as an editor here in the UK. Developed organically from her friendship with Whittaker and Rachael Deering, Tunnard set out to direct her screenplay in response to the agonizing low statistics of female filmmakers. Admirable, and thankfully Tunnard is able to build a film that uses Anna’s shed as a practical space of nostalgia for her brother and their childhood. Yet it does not feel silly, rather her hermit existence illuminates Anna’s denial and identity confusion within this grief.
Despite its themes Adult Life Skills is a comedy filled with quirks that are original rather than derivative. Anna spends her time working at an outdoor company where she meets Clint (Ozzy Meyers), a neighborhood kid who thinks he is a cowboy and whose mother is dying. Their friendship is the core relationship of the film (rather than romance) and Anna is challenged in her inability to connect with him. She also makes thumb videos, a reminiscence of her time with her brother. This weird hobby gives the film a homemade quality that draws you into Anna’s mind.
Whittaker (BBC’s Broadchurch, Attack the Block) gives messy Anna a childlike likability that includes a whole heap of sulky and teenage-like unawareness. The comedy lands well between her and her mother and grandmother who play bad cop/good cop about her living situation. Some scenes are stolen by comedian Brett Goldstein as Brandon, Anna’s dopey guy friend who harbors a crush on her weirdness. Newcomer kid Meyers is great at rodeo obsessed Clint. Edward Hogg does well in his appearances as Anna’s twin, his scuba gear never becoming a gag.
The film appears to have original music written for it though I have not been able to confirm this. The use of the same singer feels a bit like you have been plugged into Anna’s ipod and are hearing her favorite band again and again. This works, but music is a used a few too many times to clean up montages. Adult Life Skills excels as it does not attempt to force a finite solution onto its lead. Anna must get to her resolution on her own despite the active attempts by her family and friends. The film also does not address the lack of a father or even the manner in which Anna’s twin died. These major details as mystery align with the film’s subtlety and help contain the drama to specific moments. Adult Life Skills is a solid debut and brings lightness and laughter into a subject normally only given heavy handed treatment.