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  Adult Life Skills Better Shed Than Dead
Year: 2016
Director: Rachel Tunnard
Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Lorraine Ashbourne, Brett Goldstein, Rachael Deering, Eileen Davies, Alice Lowe, Edward Hogg, Ozzy Myers, David Anderson, Andrew Buckley, Christian Contreras
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anna (Jodie Whittaker) lives in a shed. Her mother Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) does not want her daughter to live in a shed. The shed is at the bottom of Marion's garden. Anna has lived there ever since a personal setback, and has grown quite comfortable in her ways, making her videos with her thumbs as characters and mostly only venturing out to get her washing or go to work at the local youth centre in this rural Yorkshire location. Today she wakes up late, and is forced to go to her job wearing wet underwear which her boss, Alice (Alice Lowe) observes makes it look as if she is lactating, but Anna doesn't care much for her appearance these days. She doesn't care for much of anything...

American indie cinema has its own typical forms, and the British equivalent has that too, mostly either straight to DVD gangster or football hooligan mini-epics that would never win a BAFTA in a month of Sundays, or sensitive character dramas, quite often featuring a young person struggling through grim circumstances but offered a ray of light when an older person takes them under their wing. This is more likely to claim an award, but it's not guarantee. Adult Life Skills fell into the latter category, drawn from its writer and director Rachel Tunnard's short film Emotional Fusebox and expanded to feature length to demonstrate what she could do away from her usual job as an editor on other's films.

Whittaker was in both, but in an interesting variation was too old to be playing a troubled teen (as she had in her breakthrough role alongside Peter O'Toole in Venus about ten years before this) so instead essayed the role of the older character who takes the younger into her confidence and guides them through problematic domestic times. Except Anna is having problems of her own as we quickly find out, she is not merely living with her mother (and her nan - Eileen Davies) out of pure laziness since she can't be bothered moving on with her life, it is down to a serious mental health situation which began when she lost someone close to her. Her twin brother passed away, basically, and this has shattered Anna.

The idea that as into each and every life a little rain must fall, but you do get over the rain within a year or two, does not necessarily apply to everyone, and in a film about grieving as Adult Life Skills was, it demonstrated that some events can be too much to surmount emotionally, never mind intellectually. Everyone grieves in their own way, but the impression is not that Anna does not wish to progress, more that she lost something very precious to her wellbeing and cannot move on without feeling that she would lose it forever if she did, for example, move out of her mother's house. Which technically she did when she moved into the shed where she and her brother devised their short videos, but apparently the length of a few feet down the lawn doesn't count, not according to her exasperated mother, at any rate.

With the result that Marion practically forces her uninterested offspring to look at potential properties in the area she could move into, helped by the fey but not gay estate agent Brendan (Brett Goldstein) who carries an awkward romantic interest in the young, but not as young as she used to be, Anna. But what of this young person of many an indie movie cliché? He is Clint (Ozzy Myers), one of the attendees of the youth groups where she works, and his mother is in hospital with a life-threatening illness which has left the little boy all at sea as far as finding his way through existence goes. Unsurprisingly, both he and Anna, being so clumsy in their coping mechanisms, find common ground, though she is less comfortable with this than she might have been, leading to the denouement where Clint goes missing after she snaps at him because she cannot face herself and her issues anymore. The theme that grief can be like toppling dominos, passed onto from one person to another, might sound heavy, and it was, but Tunnard included a lot of happy/sad humour to render this sweet and satisfying. Plus surprisingly deft use of Whitesnake.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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