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Review: Adult Life Skills Is a Fount of Preciousness

The film uses the grieving process to lend the proceedings a sense of unearned emotional gravitas.

1.5

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Adult Life Skills
Photo: Screen Media Films

From its opening scene, Adult Life Skills leans hard on preciousness and quirk. The film begins with the 30-year-old Anna (Jodie Whittaker) living in a cluttered shed in her mother Marion’s (Lorraine Ashbourne) backyard, where she mopes around and mourns her twin brother’s (Edward Hogg) death by making DIY sci-fi films using handmade sets and starring her thumbs with faces painted on them. Before the credits even roll, we’re also made acutely aware of Anna’s propensity for punnery in the array of hand-drawn signs that identify her de facto fort both as “Shed Zeppelin” and “Right Shed Fred.” In fact, there’s nary a scene where the film doesn’t go about inelegantly foregrounding its contrived eccentricities.

Anna’s case of arrested development is treated as a recent phenomenon by her immediate family, as well as by her best friend, Fiona (Rachael Deering). Yet based on her current living situation and clips from the goofy videos she made with her brother in the not-too-distant past, it’s hard to gauge how much of Anna’s sad state of affairs was caused by the grief she still carries and how much of it is a natural extension of her relentlessly offbeat personality. This murkiness surrounding the causes and extent of Anna’s seemingly permanent stasis stems from the film’s refusal to delve into its protagonist’s psyche or develop a remotely convincing backstory for her. Writer-director Rachel Tunnard is instead content to reduce Anna to a bumbling hot mess who’s always on the verge of a tears or panic attack.

Anna’s idiosyncrasies are only further highlighted when she’s tasked with watching over the eight-year old Clint (Ozzy Myers) after the boy’s mother is suddenly hospitalized. In another of the film’s clumsy juxtapositions of whimsy and melancholy, Clint’s morose demeanor is contrasted by the cowboy outfit he constantly dons. As Clint’s sorrow at his mother’s absence manifests itself in a desire to mimic Anna, Tunnard briefly flirts with tapping into the power of communal grieving as Anna begrudgingly grows closer to the youngster and breaks out of her shell. But the characters are so thinly conceived—little more than an assemblage of various affectations—that these sudden stabs at authenticity and pathos ring forced and hollow.

Adult Life Skills, which Tunnard adapted from her 2014 short film Emotional Fusebox, continues to strain for poignancy through Anna’s repeated visions of her brother, who’s dressed in snorkeling gear for no discernable reason. These scenes offer a potentially interesting shift into magical realism that could have served to explicate Anna’s relationship with her brother through meaningful subtext, but instead they offer cheap platitudes, failing to provide either substance or specificity to Anna’s melancholy. And as the film sputters on, it becomes particularly clear that it’s not interested in genuinely exploring the grieving process so much as using it to lend the proceedings a sense of unearned emotional gravitas.

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Lorraine Ashbourne, Brett Goldstein, Rachael Deering, Eileen Davies, Alice Lowe, Edward Hogg Director: Rachel Tunnard Screenwriter: Rachel Tunnard Distributor: Screen Media Films Running Time: 96 min Rating: R Year: 2016

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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