A pre-Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker
A pre-Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker

Dealing with the death of someone close—the grief that follows, the effect of their absence, how it twists and changes you until you aren’t recognizable as your old self anymore, and who are you anyway, without this other person defining your being?—has been explored in innumerable films, and in a variety of ways, from the fantastical (The Lovely Bones, What Dreams May Come), to the horrifying (The Babadook, Hereditary), to the traditionally painful (Steel Magnolias, Monster’s Ball, Ordinary People). Comedies dealing in grief seem to be a whole other animal, but one you actually want to pet without fear of getting bit. They don't seem to cut so deep or weigh so heavily on your psyche afterwards.

Adult Life Skills, the feature-length directorial debut from British filmmaker Rachel Tunnard, is one such film.

It focuses on Anna, played by Jodie Whittaker, who you might know from that fantastic Black Mirror episode, “The Entire History of You,” or perhaps as the first-ever female Doctor Who. Anna is stuck in a grief rut after the death of her twin brother Billy (“Am I still a twin if my twin’s dead?”), and has been living in self-imposed isolation in her mom’s backyard shed for the past 18 months, regularly re-watching the old quasi-serious advice videos she and Billy made together, producing her own existential videos starring her two thumbs, inexplicably but obviously a tribute to her twin, and leaving only when she has to work her part-time gig at the nearby day camp for kids, Wilburwood Outdoor Pursuits Centre. She barely seems to care about that, either, and is usually late and barely mindful of her appearance. “You look like a homeless teenager, you should have a dog and a piece of string,” her mother complains at one point, and ultimately gives Anna a move-out deadline—her 30th birthday, which is about a week away.

It’s this impending eviction that sets everything in motion, as does two other plot points: her old (lively and fun) school mate returns to town and inserts herself back into Anna’s life; and Anna becomes the reluctant keeper of a crankily troubled, Westerns-obsessed 8-year-old boy whose mother is terminally ill, and who attaches himself to her while not seeming to like her at all, acting out and mimicking her (rather bad) mode of processing grief as he tries to come to grips with his mother’s mortality in his own childish way.

The premise of Adult Life Skills isn’t remarkable or ground-breaking, but its execution is near impeccable—excellent casting, believable characters, first-rate script, simple yet elegant cinematography—and the result is a film that is quietly poignant, quirkily endearing, and humorous without seeming to try too hard.

Adult Life Skills opens this Friday, January 18. For more reviews, visit our Film and TV page. For info about other movies screening this weekend, visit our Movie Times page.