Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is approaching 30, but living in her mum’s garden shed as she struggles to get over the death of her twin brother. She splits her time between working at a local outdoor activities centre and making short videos starring her thumbs. But things start to change when she meets Clint (Ozzy Myers), an eight-year-old neighbour whose mum has terminal cancer.
History tells us a director remaking a short as a feature-length film, no matter how good the original is, is rarely a sure thing. For every Boogie Nights, there’s a Pixels. For every Evil Dead, there’s a Hardcore Henry. Rachel Tunnard has managed it though. In fact, she’s already won an award for it. Adult Life Skills, the full-film version of 2014 short Emotional Fusebox, snagged her the Nora Ephron Prize (for best female director or writer) at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The good news is that the film effortlessly lives up to the expectations that award bestowed.
Director Rachel Tunnard does a fine job of balancing the film’s laughs and its tears without feeling as though it’s forcing either.
Jodie Whittaker, most famous for mourning her dead son in Broadchurch, here mourns her dead twin brother. This manifests in her seemingly giving up on her own life – 15 months on, she’s taken up residence in the shed at the bottom of her mum’s garden and has taken to drawing little faces on her thumbs and casting them as astronauts in her own films. She doesn’t want a 30th birthday party, she doesn’t want a new flat, and she doesn’t want a new boyfriend — especially not the Ugg-wearing hairdresser her mum tries to foist on her. Into her life comes Clint (newcomer Myers) — a cowboy-obsessed eight-year-old, struggling to cope with his mother’s terminal cancer, who recognises her grief and is drawn to her as he attempts to deal with his.
These two are the heart of the film. Myers is remarkable given it’s his debut, but whether this works or not rests on Whittaker’s shoulders. Anna’s refusal to engage with the real world has the potential to make her as exasperating to the audience as she is to her mother, but Whittaker excels — you feel for Anna, even as she’s making poor decisions.
The two of them are backed up by an entertaining supporting cast, including Brett Goldstein (SuperBob) as Anna’s unlikely love interest and Rachael Deering as her best mate who’s just back from travelling. But most memorable is Eileen Davies as her grandmother, a straight-talking sexagenarian who believes Anna’s troubles could be sorted if she got herself “a man with arms chiselled out of granite that can chuck her across the bedroom”. That line’s typical of a witty script that adds comedy to the drama, without relegating any of its characters to comic relief. And Tunnard does a fine job of balancing the film’s laughs and its tears without feeling as though it’s forcing either. Killer soundtrack, too.
Witty and moving, this is a low-budget Brit triumph that marks its director as a talent to watch.