This witty debut feature by Rachel Tunnard wears its quirkiness on its sleeve – primarily via the DIY films created by 29-year-old idiosyncratic main character Anna (Jodie Whittaker) – though there’s a degree of weight to it, too, with a credible examination of post-bereavement behaviour underpinning the narrative. At the beginning of the film we discover that Anna is stuck in a rut, back living at home with her mother and her grandmother in a rural village in the Peak District. We never find out where she’s recently been living, or whether the set-up involved a partner, but we do discover that the main catalyst for her decision to return home was the death of her twin brother Billy. Subsequently Anna has been spending a lot of time in the shed at the bottom of the garden, surrounding herself with items from her childhood as well as some of Billy’s old possessions; in short she is refusing to let go (understandably) and, if one is to be harsh, refusing to grow up (the shed is, after all, connected to the main house via a baby monitor). At night she watches the inventive, surreal home videos she and Billy used to create together, while she also makes new ones of her own, using her thumbs as characters. And during the day she attends her job at the local outdoor pursuits centre, cleaning-up graffiti and fretting about the future of the moles that have made their home on the banks of a lake. But Anna’s mother is worried, and insists that her daughter should be getting on with her life: with her thirtieth birthday approaching Anna is told that she should be looking to move out of the family home and into a new apartment. She resists, but more pressure is added when best friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) arrives home after travelling around India; she has a broader view of the world and can’t understand why Anna would want to stay in a small village with few long-term prospects (both in terms of jobs and the ability to meet a partner), though weirdly Fiona seems to be settling back in for a long stint at home herself.
There’s a smartness and a lightness to the film thanks to Tunnard’s writing, which milks domestic irritation for laughs and makes good use of the comic talents of Whittaker, Deering and Alice Lowe, who plays Anna’s perma-frowning colleague at the outdoor pursuits centre. At times the tone and style reminded me of the TV sitcom The Royle Family, written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, though it’s entirely possible I’ve made that connection because it was announced that Aherne had passed away on the same day that I watched Adult Life Skills; you could just as easily make a case for Adam and Joe being an influence, or even Morrissey. There’s a distinctly British style of humour at work here, one which delights in the beauty of a withering putdown, which affectionately pokes fun at the naffness of disposable pop culture and which revels in the misery of ordinary life: Whittaker’s face is a picture, for example, when Anna stands by the bar in a remote pub watching the landlord entertain two old regulars with his terrible recorder playing; to underline the crapness of her situation she then exits the pub to rejoin Fiona in the beer garden, which is beset by wind and rain. Her friend speaks about India, but she may as well be talking about the moon.
The film is at its best when Deering and Whittaker are on screen together, and the closeness and near-the-knuckle honesty the two characters share is believable, and well-observed. There’s another promising comic pairing in Whittaker and Brett Goldstein, too, who plays love interest Brendan, a slightly-autistic and shy estate agent. By way of comparison it suffers a little when Whittaker’s character shares scenes with eight-year-old Clint (Ozzy Myers), a little lost soul in a cowboy outfit who follows her around at the activity centre. Clint’s the catalyst that will eventually break Anna out of her mental fug, as his own mother is dying of cancer, but he’s one of those common stock characters that manages to changes an adult’s opinion in one way or another, and his appearances begin to grate (though there’s nothing wrong with the young actor, I hasten to add, it’s just that the scenes involving the adults are much more entertaining). This is at times a cutesy, indie schmindie flick – right the way through to the Micah P. Hinson soundtrack – and that’s anathema for some people, but I liked it, and enjoyed its playful style; it has heart and it’s often very funny.
Directed by: Rachel Tunnard.
Written by: Rachel Tunnard.
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Ozzy Myers, Rachael Deering, Brett Goldstein, Alice Lowe, Lorraine Ashbourne, Eileen Davies.
Cinematography: Bet Rourich.
Editing: Rachel Tunnard.
Music: Micah P Hinson.
Running Time: 96 minutes.