Grief is not uncommon thematic ground for the cinema. Making sense of loss, the void to be filled and one’s individual reaction to bereavement is a tale as old as time. From a wealth of experience in the editing room, writer-director Rachel Tunnard steps behind the camera with debut feature Adult Life Skills. It is a kooky, touching, continually droll comedy drama that treads simultaneously familiar and unusual ground in its exploration of grieving for a sibling, more specifically a twin.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about mourning a lost loved one but setting up camp in a shed at the bottom of your mum’s garden for a year and a half is unconventional to say the least. But this is the path chosen by Anna (Jodie Whittaker), dishevelled and disorganised, who passes her time making existential thumb videos and at a nearby reservoir activity centre. Assigned the all important task of counting mole hills each morning as the pesky little critters blight her place of work, it’s safe to say the soon to be 30 year old is in a bit of a funk. With three generations of the female side of a family at the same residence – albeit separated by a patch of grass – it’s immediately evident that apples do not fall far from trees here.
Anna’s mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) is intent in giving her daughter a kick up the backside, and grandmother (Eileen Davis) on finding a young man for her granddaughter. Tunnard’s script balances bittersweet meditations on life, love and loss with no-holds-barred one liners and cursing. Mostly delivered with unflinching and uncaring candour by the eldest of their midst, you’ll be creased up with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement. The predominance of female figures here does not feel contrived and the evident closeness of a small cast shines through with spunky, spontaneous, naturalistic exchanges. Alice Lowe also features and Rachael Deering makes her debut as Anna’s best mate, recently returned from “finding herself” in South East Asia. Awkward Brendan (Brett Goldstein) is hopelessly in love with Anna, who had always considered him to be gay, but his honest counsel is key to pulling her back into the real world.
Each performance is strong but it is Whittaker, who will be known to many viewers for her role in ITV’s Broadchurch, who really shines. Though comparable to some degree to her TV role it is refreshing to see the Yorkshire lass so fully give herself to such a madcap character in a way that is both humorous and emotionally arresting. Last but not least special mention must be made to a young cowboy-hat wearing chap named Clint (Ozzy Myers). His mother suffering from cancer and in and out of hospital, he latches on to Anna like a barnacle. Initial irritation turns to affection and a mutual exchange of forthright advice between two oddballs who have more in common than they might first think.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens