If it had bigger stars and a less quirk-dependent plot, Rachel Tunnard’s Adult Life Skills would be right at home at the multiplex, probably starring someone like Kate Hudson. The romance here is relegated to comically awkward background, sparing us the trope of the hapless heroine whose messy life is all tidied up by the love of a good man, but the rest is dispiritingly predictable. Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is a kind of English Zoe Deschanel, a wide-eyed free spirit who doesn’t realize how loveable she is. She lives in a shed in her mother’s backyard, which she has crammed full of artsy detritus like pinwheels and homemade tinfoil rocket ships. When she’s not working at a community center, she likes to draw a rudimentary face on each of her thumbs and then shoot video of them having a conversation.
But she used to do a lot more of that sort of thing with her twin brother, until he died two years earlier and she retreated into her mother’s shed. Her dead brother haunts Anna, popping up periodically to offer advice. It makes sense that neither he nor their relationship ever change (he’s always wearing a snorkeling mask, presumably because he died snorkeling), since he’s a figment of her imagination and a symbol of how stuck she is emotionally. But it’s unfortunate that Anna’s mother and grandmother come to feel just as static and one-note as that apparition, as her mother clucks at Anna to move out of the shed and get on with her life while her grandmother gently urges her mother to quit nagging the poor girl.
Anna’s relationships with Brendan (Brett Goldstein), the cute co-worker who’s crushing on her, and Clint (Ozzy Myers), the little neighbor boy she resentfully looks after while his father tends to his dying mother, are also lifeless, the chemistry between Anna and both Brendan and Clint wavering between zero and one on a scale of 10. We know from pretty much the first time we see these two that Brendan will eventually win her over and Clint will wind up helping her more than she helps him, just as we know that Anna will eventually move out of that shed. But there’s almost no sense of discovery or emotional evolution as those three scenarios grind toward their conclusions, so the inevitable happy ending feels tacked on rather than earned.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13—24.