Adult Life Skills, 2016.
Directed by Rachel Tunnard.
Starring Jodie Whittaker, Rachael Deering, Brett Goldstein, Ozzy Myers and Lorraine Ashbourne.
With her 30th birthday fast approaching, Anna’s (Jodie Whittaker) life has hit a brick wall. Unable to cope with the death of her twin brother, she lives in her mother’s shed, making videos starring her two thumbs with faces painted on them. But life has a way of getting her back on track, through her returning best friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) and seven year old, cowboy mad Clint (Ozzy Myers).
Rachel Tunnard’s feature debut starts out very much as a comedy – and, if you’ve seen the award-nominated short that inspired it, Emotional Fusebox, that’s what you’re expecting. Anna’s videos of her thumbs in outer space, the signs outside the shed – Shed Zeppelin, Dawn of the Shed and, best of all, Right Shed Fred – all point to something with a quirky sense of humour.
What emerges very quickly is an altogether more serious film, admittedly not without laughs but not the out and out comedy promised by those opening scenes. Because this is a tragi-comedy, about loss and grief and how those emotions are even more intense when you’re a twin. Anna simply can’t handle it, retreating from the world into her mother’s shed, behaving like a teenager and only going out to earn some money in her dead end job at the country park. She has other pressures to contend with: her increasingly exasperated mother, Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne), has given her a deadline to move out of the shed, the country park has an escalating mole problem and then she finds herself looking after the neighbour’s little boy, a truculent, cowboy crazy seven year old called Clint.
Set in the beautiful but windswept Yorkshire countryside, the film has a faint sniff of Summer Wine about it. The men could easily grow into Compo, Clegg and Co. Little Clint for one, the bizarre hairdresser with a dreadful mullet and Ugg boots for another, and even Brendan (Brett Goldstein), who admires Anna from afar but is hampered by terrible social skills and a voice that would send you to sleep. Next to nothing happens in their village, so creating eccentric home videos is as exciting as it gets. Anna herself isn’t having a late or mid-life crisis, not is she actually having an early life version: what she’s suffering from is profound grief buried so deep that she can’t let it out. But when little Clint goes missing, it’s a wake-up call. The penny drops that there are things in the here and now that are genuinely important to her, even though she hadn’t realised it. She’d been too caught up trying to preserve her memories of her brother.
Alongside the sadness and quirky humour, there’s a side to the story that will strike an unexpected chord with Anna’s contemporaries. The 20 and 30 somethings who are still living with their parents because a home of their own is simply too out of their reach. It’s what Anna’s doing and, even if she wasn’t in the shed, she’d still be living with her mum. Her low-paid job doesn’t allow for anything else. The same applies to her best friend, Fiona, who returns from her travels with next to nothing in her pocket. What’s even worse for her is that she and her mother actively hate each other. Perhaps life in the country isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Adult Life Skills is a bittersweet, touching film with an off-the-wall sense of humour, all of which disguise that the original short has been over-stretched to make a full length feature. It may sag a little in the middle, losing its way on the Yorkshire moors, but the film still holds on to its charm and tenderness that make it both moving and memorable.
It also teaches the female members of the audience an invaluable life skill. Never dry your bra in the microwave.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper – Follow me on Twitter, check out my movie blog and listen to my podcast, Talking Pictures.