‘Pink Skies Ahead’ Review: Jessica Barden Is All Attitude in This Stylized Look at Anxiety Issues
As an overstressed college dropout processes a mental health diagnosis, what was once patronizing movie-of-the-week territory gets a witty, empowering spin from pop author Kelly Oxford.
In first-time director Kelly Oxford’s snappy, super-saturated account of her personal battle with anxiety disorder, “Pink Skies Ahead,” the main character is named Winona, but it’s her best friend Stephanie who does all the shoplifting. It’s like a compulsion: Every time they go to the convenience store, Winona distracts the awkward, androgynous-looking clerk behind the counter while Stephanie roams the candy aisle, filling her pockets. Then they both buy Slurpees (only, the movie calls them “Freezers”) to cover their tracks.
This is behavior that would be right at home in high school — or a high school movie, like “Ghost World,” which might explain Winona’s Slurpee-blue dye job — when young people are testing the boundaries of what they can get away with and still largely oblivious to how their actions impact others. But Winona is a 20-year-old college dropout, embodied by “End of the F—ing World” star Jessica Barden, who’s a few years older still, even though she looks barely old enough to drive.
The fact Barden looks younger is fitting, since Winona still hasn’t managed to pass her driving test, and freaking out behind the wheel of her car will become one of the movie’s running motifs. It’s also an apt metaphor for Winona’s recurring failure to accomplish the basic responsibilities of adulthood — which is surprisingly relatable, whether you’re Oxford’s age (early 40s) or a member of what “Can’t Even” author Anne Helen Petersen has dubbed the “burnout generation.”
The Los Angeles-set “Pink Skies Ahead” takes place in 1998, but the pressures Oxford describes have only become more acute in the two decades since. (Something else that’s happened in the intervening time is the rise of social-media stars, and Oxford’s own ascension follows in the footsteps of writers such as Diablo Cody and Marti Noxon, who make her high-attitude voice seem almost tame by comparison.) In the opening scene, Winona loses patience with herself after motormouthing her way through a stop sign, yelling, “How come everyone else in the world can talk and drive, and I can’t? What is wrong with me?!”