“Adult Life Skills” (2016)
Written & Directed by: Rachel Tunnard
Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Ozzy Myers, Brett Goldstein, Alice Lowe, Lorraine Ashbourne, Eileen Davies, Edward Hogg, Rachael Deering
Brendan: “I am not Gay. Why does eberyone think I am Gay?”
It’s remarkable the seeming ease that the British Film Industry is able to produce great independent drama, comedies and horror movies each and every year. Not only that, but the talent on show always seems to be original as well as first class. Take the release this month of “Adult Life Skills” (2016), featuring the newly crowned ‘Doctor Who’ Jodie Whittaker, she features here in a role that her talents suit right down to the ground. Originally based on a short film by the same writer/director, Rachel Tunnard , this feature feels like a natural blend of drama and comedy set in a seemingly remote small English village where there seems to be a rather limited population, this film highlights the interactions between three generations of women who live (almost) under the same roof – as well as their friends and the attempts they go through to heal two vulnerable souls.
“Adult Life Skills” revolves around Anna (Jodie Whittaker) who is stuck: she’s approaching 30, living like a hermit in her mum’s garden and eighteen months ago her twin brother died. She spends her days making videos using her thumbs as charaters. A week before her birthday her Mum serves her an ultimatum – she needs to move out of the shed, get a haircut and stop dressing like a homeless teenager. However, when her school friend comes to visit, Anna’s self-imposed isolation becomes impossible to maintain. Soon she is entangled with a troubled eight year old boy obsessed with Westerns, and the local estate agent whose awkward interpersonal skills continually undermine his attempts to seduce her.
I have to say upfront I really enjoyed this film; it hit a spot that I really appreciated in terms of the drama displayed as well as the comedy that helped introduce the ensemble cast in a really easy way. The film covers some pretty serious ground, not only for the main character of Anna, but for the small boy she is forced to befriend that leads to a deeper understanding of her life – which ultimately is the main point of the film. “Adult Life Skills” deals with death of not only a sibling, in this case a twin brother, but also the death of a parent. It doesn’t shy away from the feeling of loss as well as the way this can have a detrimental effect to ones mental health – it also shows how healthy it is to talk to other people about feelings of loss and malaise.
This is the first full length film that Rachel Tunnard has written and directed ,which is difficult to believe when you look at the finished product. Tunnard has been an extremely experienced editor (she also edited this film), which is a great training ground to become a director as it helps hone story telling skills to a point where it becomes clear what story you are trying to tell. There are far too many movies released that not only have bloated running times (see any blockbuster, this weeks “The Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (2017) is a prime example, an action film that runs almost two and a half hours) but also lose sight on what the purpose of the film was in the first place. Tunnard has created a little movie that hits many of the buttons that make an audience respond to a story that is universal in nature but in an intimate way. She has kept the plot extremely simple but utilized a narrative with originality that uses characters as the catalyst to move the plot forward to a very satisfying as well as realistic conclusion.
The first great element, as well as one of the unique things about “Adult Life Skills” is the cast, as well as their characterizations of the parts they are playing. The lead is the fantastic Jodie Whittaker who plays Anna, the surviving twin who is suffering a crisis with the loss of her brother as well as the seeming permanent limbo she finds herself in. The great supporting cast that is led by Lorraine Ashbourne and Eileen Davies as Anna’s Mother and Grandmother are just superb, playing parts where they are eternally opposed to each other – they off Anna’s character in ways that are surprising given the familial relationship. These are three separately identifiable women that are strong characters’ in their own right as well as having their own thoughts and actions which interact with the story – most importantly they are believable. The remainder of the supporting cast is Brett Goldstein and Alice Lowe as Brendan and Alice, Anna’s friends who are there for her at every turn, but of course she does not seem to be able to give them what they want from her. Finally in his first film is Ozzy Myers as Clint, a young boy who is wanting answers from his own life without really knowing the questions, he is facing an even bigger loss than Anna has, if that is even possible. When child actors are asked to be in movies it can be difficult to believe that they are really coming to grips with what they are doing, that is acting, but Myers is exceptionally strong and this has to come to down to a very gifted little boy.
This is first and foremost a movie about personal loss and grief, what both of those can mean to someone who thinks they might be alone in life after that loss. More often than not those people can recover and move on with their own life, find a purpose and learn to live without that piece they have lost. However, it is possible that without support or some kind of previous purpose a person may not fully recover; anxiety and depression can take over, they can have trouble interacting in a healthy way with the outside world. In Anna’s case she feels she has lost a part of her but in her grief she finds someone that is going to go through something she has, so identifies with that person to such a degree that she lets her friends and family into her life (or back into), its not the same, its different and in her case it may be better – sort of.
I can honestly say I recommend this movie highly, it has much going for it, primarily the performance of Jodie Whittaker, as well as the fantastic job writer/director/editor Rachel Tunnard has done with her first full length feature on what must be considered a tight budget. Another thing it has going for it is that it is a family film, there is some coarse language but not enough that it should be off putting. If you or you know of someone that has suffered a loss you or they will appreciate this movie for what it is, a positive outlook on life and those people left behind.
“Adult Life Skills” is out now on DVD.