Rachel Tunnard’s debut feature Adult Life Skills is a quirky, witty and moving film about grief and identity.
Badge for Lifeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Anna (an endearingly off-centre Jodie Whittaker from TV series Broadchurch) has been living absurdly like a teenager in a shed in her mother’s garden since her twin, Billy, died eighteen months ago. She is still stuck in paralysing grief, missing their close relationship and continuing on her own to make the jokey space-age thumb videos (with drawn-on faces, having conversations) they used to make together.
She cycles to work though glorious rolling Peak District landscapes to a dead-end job at a small outdoor activities centre run by Alice (Alice Lowe, star of Sightseers and Black Mountain Poets). The threat of her thirtieth birthday is coming up. She can’t celebrate it without Billy and she wonders if she’s still a twin now that he’s dead. Her plain-speaking mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) gives her the ultimatum that it’s time for her to move out of the shed and into a flat of her own and get on with her life. Anna isn’t ready. Then her best friend Fiona (exuberant Rachel Deering) returns from a year in Thailand and tries to jolly her out of her reclusiveness with a night out to recapture their teens. And she has to look after the little boy next door, cowboy-obsessed Clint (Ozzy Myers, a stetson-hatted old head on young shoulders), while his mother is in hospital. He is troubled but he has a child’s knack of speaking the truth and their growing relationship, despite Anna’s reluctance, they help each other come to terms with their grief.
It’s an impressive feature debut for Rachel Tunnard who has directed, written and edited this expansion of her award-nominated short film Emotional Fusebox), made with the same actors. It’s full of lovely details, such as Anna’s pairing up of single shoes found by the side of the road and the bra in the microwave, though there are a woolly hats a-plenty and a slight sag in the middle where it shows signs of being stretched out. Performances are excellent. Grandma (Eileen Davies, from Sightseers) also lives in the house and the relationship between the three generations of women in the household is comically acerbic. Local estate agent and aspiring author Brendan (actor and stand-up Brett Goldstein) is funny and nice, but Anna is so wrapped up in her grief that she doesn’t realise he’s been in love with her since school. He’s the one who comes up with the whimsical thought that, like Brownie badges that are earned, adults should be given life skills badges for completing adult tasks, such as sending back a meal in a restaurant or sewing.
Adult Life Skills is released on 24 July 2016 in the UK.