Thursday, October 22, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: Pink Skies Ahead

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

Pink Skies Ahead
Directed by Kelly Oxford
Festival Information

Expectations can serve as a great motivator for people, giving them a benchmark of what they should accomplish and a way to measure their own success. That’s not universally true, however, since some find living up to what others think they can do daunting and impossible to do, and they may as a result give up trying for fear of failure. Presuming that everyone can achieve the same things is not smart or effective, and those who know that they won’t be able to do as well as others will undoubtedly push back against every attempt to compel them to press on.

In 1998 Los Angeles, Winona (Jessica Barden) has dropped out of college and moved home with her parents, working for her eternally-distracted father (Michael McKean) and mostly avoiding her prying mother (Marcia Gay Harden). A visit to her pediatrician (Henry Winkler) for an imagined ailment produces a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Dubious because she’s never had a panic attack, Winona nonetheless finds herself preoccupied with this new explanation for the reason she hasn’t gotten so far in life as she spends her nights partying with her friends and her days trailing her father, who she believes is having an affair.

Disenchanted teenagers and young adults are frequent movie subjects, exploring their place in the world and struggling to find answers for why life isn’t as easy for them as it is for peers or parents. This film has a spunky energy to it best captured in Winona, who doesn’t much care what others think about her but doesn’t want to be seen as a disaster. Her father couldn’t be less interested in what she’s going through, and her mother is far too eager to know everything. Though they’re both unable to communicate it, they want their daughter, who they might argue is going through a phase, to be happy in her own skin and forging a path that feels both productive and comfortable.

Barden is a fantastic actress who has played roles similar to this before, with particularly strong showcases in “The New Romantic” and “The End of the F***ing World.” She’s a natural here, leading a great cast that also includes Rosa Salazar as a friend and Mary J. Blige as her therapist. This film is good at finding its characters where they are, all capable of saying plenty but not doing much. As a result, the direction that Winona lacks seeps into the film, making it a perfectly entertaining chapter in a story that isn’t entirely sure where it’s going.


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