Adult Life Skills

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Jodie Whittaker as Anna in Adult Life Skills
"Charm' is just one of the words, and others like 'winsome' are right there - it manages this without ever feeling forced, without ever feeling twee - and that makes it a triumph."

Yorkshire is God's own country, but the shed is Anna's domain - a cornucopia of comforts at the bottom of her mother's garden, a rustic palace in wi-fi range. It's a particular kind of dream, and like the idea of cooking a perfect lasagne*, one that won't last.

Jodie Whittaker is Anna, lowest rung in the tri-generational totem pole. Mother Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) and Grandmother Jean (Eileen Davies) are also resident, and there's conflict - much of it predicated upon an imminent birthday. Anna, with her BMX commute to the local Outdoor Centre, her padlocked front door, her thumb videos, her cardboard spaceship, is about to turn 30.

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With a solid timetable for eviction, one born from both frustration and love, the clock is ticking - and then Clint arrives. In a film with tremendous performances young Ozzie Myers is brilliant. In dealing with an actual child there are lessons for Anna, but most importantly there's the slow revelation of Anna's loss - she's not stuck in the shed, she is hiding.

Anna is kept company by the wetsuit-clad spectre of The Snorkeler (Edward Hogg, high quality as always), and by friends and colleagues Fiona (Rachael Deering) and Alice (Alice Tree), and is orbited clumsily by the gawkish Brendan (Brett Goldstein).

In this debut feature for Rachel Tunnard there's a confidence in writing and direction that we can blithely assert comes in part from industry experience (she's dozens of editing credits, including quality shorts like Fixing Luka and Battenberg) but can more fairly attribute to actual talent. There's tonnes on display, at each and every level. This is a film that looks good, that eventually feels good, but the nature of that 'happy ending' is more complex and the path it takes is at once winding, free-wheeling, affecting. Tunnard earlier created Emotional Fusebox, which your reviewer hasn't seen but which was one of 2015's BAFTA Shorts. The two share key traits, and it's a fair assumption to say that quality is one of them.

The soundtrack features several contributions from Micah P Hanson. The film features several short films (those thumb videos) that serve at once as chorus and soliloquy, and are as charming as only two digital astronauts plummeting headlong for a sweet-wrapper sun can be. The other videos on Anna's website (including Guided Meditations For Men) that we see are great work. 'Charm' is just one of the words, and others like 'winsome' are right there - it manages this without ever feeling forced, without ever feeling twee - and that makes it a triumph.

Growing up is rubbish, but it's not something you can run away from. I have explained to my godsons, my tiny (second) cousins, and I will explain to my niece that the best thing about being an adult is that you can have ice-cream for breakfast and spend as much as you want on Lego, and that the worst thing about being an adult is that you can do those things but still need a TV license and have to reorganise your shifts in order to get your car through an MOT.

Except those aren't the worst things about being an adult - those are requirements, but they're not responsibilities, not ones to which guilt is attached. Growing up is not about putting away boxes of toys, it's about loss. It's that unflinching depiction of grief that elevates Adult Life Skills, that drives it towards its satisfyingly messy conclusion, that makes it such an affecting piece of film-making. There are many films that have cowboys in them, many that have moles, many that are domestic dramas, that have jokes, that have haircuts, that have libidinous grandmothers, that have visits to look at terrible flats, that have rucksacks full of videotapes, that have spiders, that have romance, and music, the ship of Theseus, and other movies, and... I put an asterisk up by "perfect lasagne" because for me the trick is to put in things that you like: a layer of roasted garlic mushrooms; a mozzarella ball, sliced and hidden under the top-coat of bechamel; plenty of grated crunchy cheddar too; a few streaks of cayenne pepper; a pesto layer (try it!) or two in the middle. The real secret though, is to have it in good company - and Adult Life Skills provides just that.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2016
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Adult Life Skills packshot
Anna is stuck: she’s approaching 30, living in her mother’s shed, and spending her time making movies with her thumbs. Her mom wants her to move out; she just wants to be left alone.
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Director: Rachel Tunnard

Writer: Rachel Tunnard

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Edward Hogg, Lorraine Ashbourne, Alice Lowe, Brett Goldstein, Andrew Buckley, Christian Contreras, Eileen Davies, David Anderson, Rachael Deering, Ozzy Myers

Year: 2016

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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