Stars: Jessica Barden, Henry Winkler, Rose Salazar, Lewis Pullman, Devon Bostick, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael McKean, Mary J. Blige, Odeya Rush
By Morgan Roberts
Anxiety permeates one’s life. It can be an all-consuming burden. So, when Kelly Oxford was on her 2017 book tour, Oxford was receiving feedback on her piece about her anxiety disorder; many people reading When You Find Out the World is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments were drawn to Oxford’s frankness and honesty surrounding anxiety. The talks led Oxford to write and direct “Pink Skies Ahead” (2020).
“Pink Skies Ahead” follows Winona (Jessica Barden) after she has dropped out of school and moved home with her parents. Winona is not the stereotypical college dropout. There is something that is impeding her ability to get through school that is outside of her academic drive and intelligence. As she struggles, feeling stuck between working with her dad (Michael McKean) and yoga classes with her mom (Marcia Gay Harden), Winona seeks for some answers. She goes to her pediatrician (Henry Winkler) who diagnoses her with an anxiety disorder, one that she does not recognize since she does not have panic attacks. Throughout the film, we see Winona’s anxiety in its various forms of manifestation and her continued denial.
Oxford is a stellar writer; she is one of my favorite writers. Her voice and writing style have translated brilliantly to screen. The dialogue is sharp and authentic. The arcs she takes Winona on are relatable and grounded. For instance, I found Winona, a young 20-something, still going to her pediatrician has insanely clever and hilarious. Oxford was able to capture two very big elements: anxiety disorders and the awkwardness of being a young woman.
“Pink Skies Ahead” is an honest portrayal of mental health. And Oxford takes an impressive turn behind the camera in her directorial debut.
Winona is not an easy nut to crack, but she is someone we can root for and empathize with. Barden gives an outstanding performance. Anxiety, many times, is an inward ailment, until it suddenly and blatantly shows itself. Having to provide a primarily internal performance is challenging task, one which Barden executes beautifully. From her tone to the way she examines a room, you can tell that there is something going out without being outwardly told what that is.
As a director, Oxford really shot the heck out of this film. She allowed for Los Angeles, the anxieties of that setting, to become a character in the film as well. Frequently, we either see Los Angeles portrayed as a place of magic or a scum-filled realm. Much like our main character, Oxford allowed for the setting to be a bit more complicated that opposing sides. It brings out both the best and worst parts of people, including Winona.
“Pink Skies Ahead” is an honest portrayal of mental health. And Oxford takes an impressive turn behind the camera in her directorial debut. If this is what she has crafted as a first time director, we are going to see continually stunning work from Oxford as a filmmaker.