VOD film review: Adult Life Skills
Matthew Turner | On 25, Jun 2016
Director: Rachel Tunnard
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Lorraine Ashbourne, Edward Hogg, Alice Lowe
Watch Adult Life Skills online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / BFI Player / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Making her feature debut, writer-director Rachel Tunnard expands her BAFTA-nominated short, Emotional Fusebox, into this emotionally engaging, if occasionally overly-quirky, British comedy drama. The very definition of bittersweet, the film strikes a fine balance between whimsical comedy and emotional drama, while the female perspective on the adult-who-refuses-to-grow-up scenario (see also: every Will Ferrell movie) feels genuinely refreshing.
Set in an unnamed rural British town, the film stars Jodie Whittaker (reprising her role from the short) as Anna, a young woman on the brink of her 30th birthday. Unable to recover from the death of her twin brother (Hogg), Anna has taken to living in the shed at the bottom of her mother Marion’s (Ashbourne) garden, where she makes home movies in which she casts her thumbs as a pair of astronauts (we did warn you it was quirky).
As Anna’s birthday approaches, Marion gives her an ultimatum: she’d like her to move out of the shed before she turns 30. Meanwhile, Anna finds some solace in her job at a day-care centre, where she remains oblivious to the desires of her strange, smitten co-worker Brendan (Brett Goldstein) and strikes up a touching bond with troubled young boy Clint (Ozzy Myers), whose mother has been hospitalised with terminal cancer.
Whittaker is terrific as Anna, pulling off appealingly ditzy behaviour (e.g. starting a small fire by attempting to microwave a bra before she goes to work), but investing her with an underlying sadness that’s genuinely affecting. Ashbourne is equally good as her exceptionally patient mother (although she feels short-changed by the script, in terms of her own grief), and there’s strong work from Eileen Davies as Anna’s sex-obsessed grandmother (who maintains that all she needs to snap her out of it is “a man with arms chiselled out of granite that can chuck her across the bedroom”) and from the always-reliable Alice Lowe as Anna’s not-quite-as-patient boss at the day care centre.
The script is admirable in its determination not to over-explain everything – for example, we never find out how Anna’s twin died and we don’t get any detail about Clint’s parents – and manages to find quietly moving moments without sinking into sentimentality, notably in hallucination / flashback sequences involving Hogg, which are nicely understated (he occasionally just pops up wearing a snorkel).
Although the film chiefly functions as an exploration of grief and being unable to move on, it also has something interesting to say about artistic creativity, which is normally presented as a healthy thing, but here has an element of obsessive regression, with Anna channelling everything into her home movies to the exclusion of other elements of her life. It’s fair to say that Adult Life Skills doesn’t always adhere to the expected clichés in that regard, just as it avoids the expected rom-com moments in Anna’s relationship with Brendan. Witty and charming with an unexpected depth of emotion, this is a smartly observed and superbly acted comedy drama that marks writer-director Rachel Tunnard out as a talent to watch.
Adult Life Skills is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.