Review by Sean Boelman
Jessica Barden is one of the brightest young stars working right now, and she has proven on multiple occasions that she has the chops to carry even a less than impressive film. Kelly Oxford’s coming-of-age dramedy Pink Skies Ahead yet is arguably her biggest test yet, as its occasionally obnoxious characters prevent it from working as well as it should.
The movie tells the story of a college dropout living with her parents as she is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and struggles to accept her condition. It’s evident that Oxford only has the best of intentions with her film, but unfortunately, it is far too cynical, angry, and whiny to be particularly enjoyable to watch.
Interestingly enough, Oxford absolutely nails the last thirty minutes, which leaves one to wonder what went so wrong with the first hour. It seems as if she has more of a penchant for writing emotional drama than comedy, as the more serious third act is far more successful than her forced attempts at quirkiness that comprise much of the movie’s humor.
Furthermore, Oxford disappointingly pulls many of the punches in regards to the film’s unique angle. By the end of the movie, it becomes clear that this is a compassionate and caring approach to anxiety disorder, but for much of the runtime, this feels like an afterthought. Instead, the film is too preoccupied with the common themes of the genre.
The character development in the movie is also underwhelming. While the protagonist is sympathetic, much of her arc is conventional. Her two sidekicks who accompany her on many of her comedic antics are bland and forgettable. Even the love interest has very little development apart from pushing along the protagonist’s arc.
Barden is undeniably talented, but even she can’t make such an annoying character completely likable. That sudden and dramatic shift heading into the final third makes her a lot less insufferable, but charming and irritating simply don’t go together. In the supporting cast, everyone feels wasted or miscast, with the exception of Henry Winkler, who is a joy to see as always.
That said, perhaps the most frustrating thing about this film is that Oxford shows an insane amount of potential behind the camera. The visual style shows genuine creativity and the director’s distinct voice. This is a colorful and quirky period piece that, with a better script, could have been a ton of joyous fun.
Pink Skies Ahead does not live up to expectations given by its unique premise and talented cast. It manages to stick the landing, but one must put up with an hour of nuisances to get to that point, and it’s not quite worth it.
Pink Skies Ahead debuted at the 2020 AFI FEST which runs virtually October 15-22.