Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is having a terrible, no good, very bad week. She's about to turn 30, and her mom wants her out of the backyard shed before her birthday. Her friend is back from a jaunt around the world, and a pesky young neighbor kid in a cowboy costume won't go away. Plus, she has spiders in her bed and her bra is in the microwave.
In the debut feature “Adult Life Skills,” writer-director Rachel Tunnard nails being on the verge of the big three-oh and feeling like you haven't quite gotten the whole “grown-up” thing down.
“We should get a badge for adult life skills,” says Anna's strange, old school pal Brendan (Brett Goldstein), “like changing a tire, knitting, sending something back in a restaurant.” It's very true, and it's dialogue like this that is emblematic of Tunnard's funny and poignant film, which is a lot like the characters who populate its cozy English landscape: chatty and charming and sometimes a bit aimless.
There is, of course, something more tragic behind Anna's quirks and peccadilloes and her seeming inability to grow up or move beyond the childish wardrobe and behavior that drives her mother batty. She makes videos starring her thumbs and each night scrolls an old website — the online home of the humorous videos she once made with her twin brother, who is no longer around. The videos are juvenile, raunchy and look like tons of fun to have made. It's obvious Anna is in arrested development. It's also obvious that she's in mourning, and that the two things are inextricably linked.
There are lots of films about adults who lack life skills, about adults who can't grow up because of tragedy, inexperience or whatever it is in their life that has convinced them adulthood is a raw deal. “Adult Life Skills” slots easily into the genre, with a quirky cast of characters, and a pervasive sense of fantasy and escapism.
But where the film stands out is in the resonant truth throughout the script, whether it's discussing badges for practical life skills or Anna lamenting that growing older means she's less and less the person she was with her brother — silly, creative, unabashed, confident.
Although “Adult Life Skills” could often use more focus, it digs deep to achieve a sense of catharsis, and as a woman who's trying to be invisible, but can't isolate herself forever, Whittaker (currently the Doctor on “Doctor Who”) carries the film. Anna has to learn to accept help, work with others and find the playful parts of herself that still exist. In the end, those are the skills that really get you through this life.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic
‘Adult Life Skills'
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD