NOW ON MTV! It would be easy to write off writer/director Kelly Oxford’s Pink Skies Ahead as merely a story about angry young millennials. But it takes place in 1998, so it can’t be a millennial story (I know, lame point). More importantly, maybe our protagonist is not as angry as we think.
The film opens with Winona (Jessica Barden) angrily and aggressively complaining about everything. During her rant, she runs a stop sign and subsequently fails her driving test. Winona recently dropped out of college because it wasn’t her thing. Her parents (Michael McKean and Marcia Gay-Harden) have decided to sell their home and move to a smaller one without her.
Life for Winona gets progressively worse throughout the film. She struggles to find a job, get a driver’s license, keep a relationship, and find the same happiness as her friends — though she is the most promising one to make something of her life. The problem is that Winona is having trouble transitioning successfully into adulthood. She still sees her childhood pediatrician, Dr. Cotton (Henry Winkler), and day after day Winona stresses out over every little pain and discomfort. Dr. Cotton ultimately diagnoses Winona with an anxiety disorder. Skeptical of his diagnosis, Winona tries therapy (once) and attending groups but eventually brushes them off and goes it alone.
“…day after day Winona stresses out over every little pains and discomfort. Dr. Cotton diagnoses Winona with an anxiety disorder…”
Soon Winona’s life spirals out of control after she becomes convinced her father is having an affair. A disastrous meeting with her boyfriend’s mother and the looming sale of her parents’ home only make things worse for our young protagonist. The stress of life is proving too overwhelming for Winona, and she has nowhere to turn for clarity.
Pink Skies Ahead is a message movie about anxiety disorders and panic attacks. We all want to believe we’re relatively normal. Jessica Barden is absolutely brilliant in her portrayal of Winona, and Oxford’s screenplay is equally insightful. Not knowing anything about the filmmaker, I would assume she knows a thing or two about panic attacks and captures an authentic story and performance from her actors.
It also helps that the entire cast is loaded with talent. Michael McKean and Marcia Gay Harden are… well, perfect. I love the fact that as parents in the 1990s, they don’t know what’s happening with their daughter, putting their reputation as good parents are put in jeopardy. The supporting players include Rosa Salazar, Odeya Rush, Lewis Pullman, Evan Ross, and Mary J. Blige as Winona’s new therapist — a solid cast for a solid film.
Pink Skies Ahead is essentially a message to all of us saying, “I’ve been there. I know what you’re going through. There is help.” It would be too easy to dismiss a person, like Winona, as being unlikeable and abrasive. But there comes the point when we have to realize that we’re all trying to make it day-to-day and that we all have our hang-ups. Isn’t a second chance something we can all use?
Pink Skies Ahead screened at the 2020 AFI Fest.
"…knows a thing or two about panic attacks and captures an authentic story..."