Directed by Rachel Tunnard
Starring Jodie Whittaker, Rachael Deering, Brett Goldstein
Released on 24th June 2016
If you spot somebody with a little face drawn on each of their thumbs, then you’ll know which film they’ve been watching. It’s Adult Life Skills, the feature debut from British director Rachel Tunnard and based on her award-nominated short, Emotional Fusebox, from 2014.
The central character remains the same and so does the essential story. Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is approaching her 30th birthday and her life has hit a brick wall. She’s living in the shed in her mother’s garden trying desperately to come to terms with her twin brother’s death. Except that she can’t. So she spends her time watching videos she made with her brother, and making new ones which star her thumbs apparently whizzing around in space. But, as she buries herself in grief, the world around her is conspiring to bring her back to reality, with some help from her best friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) and seven year old, cowboy mad Clint (Ozzy Myers).
It all starts out as a comedy, very much in the same vein as the original short. And it’s comedy of a quirky, charming kind: not just her videos but also the signs outside the shed – Shed Zeppelin, Dawn Of The Shed and my personal favourite for obvious reasons, Right Shed Fred. But it becomes apparent very quickly that this humour is disguising something more serious and more painful. This isn’t an out and out comedy, more a tragi-comedy with a decidedly bittersweet taste. It’s all about loss and grief and how those emotions are even more intense when you’re a twin.
And while this is constantly on Anna’s mind, she has other issues to contend with. Her increasingly exasperated mother, Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) who, at her wits’ end, has given her daughter a deadline for moving out of the shed. The country park where Anna works in a low-paid, dead end job, has an escalating mole problem. And, while one of her neighbours is in hospital, she finds herself looking after their son, the truculent, cowboy crazy Clint.
With its Yorkshire setting, rural boredom and eccentric male characters, there’s a definite sniff of Summer Wine about the film. The men could easily age less than gracefully into the likes of Compo and Clegg. There’s the hairdresser with the dreadful mullet – this isn’t the 80s, by the way – and Ugg boots, and there’s Brendan (Brett Goldstein), the most ineffective estate agent going who adores Anna from afar. Initially, he doesn’t seem very bright, but his problem is that he’s socially awkward and cursed with a flat, boring voice. But he has a kind heart, coming up with the sweet idea of the Adult Life Skills badge. And then there’s Clint. The phrase “old head on young shoulders” was made for him.
With its bittersweet tone, off the wall humour and an all-round excellent cast, Adult Life Skills is touching and sympathetic. True, it does sag in the middle, betraying that the original short has been overstretched to make a feature, but it still holds on to its charm and tenderness, making it both moving and memorable.
There’s also an invaluable adult life skill for the female members of the audience. Never dry your bra in the microwave.
Adult Life Skills is released on Friday, 24th June and reviewed on Talking Pictures.