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Pink Skies Ahead

By Alan Ng | October 22, 2020

AFI FEST 2020 REVIEW! It would be easy to write off Kelly Oxford’s Pink Skies Ahead as one of those stories about angry young millennials. First it takes place in 1998 (so can’t be a millennial story..I know, lame point), but importantly, maybe our protagonist is not as angry as we think.

Pink Skies Ahead opens with Winona (Jessica Barden) angrily and aggressively complaining about everything. During her rant, Winona runs a stop sign and subsequently fails her driving test. Winona has a lot to complain about in every aspect of life. She 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 Winona.

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 year after year 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.

“…year after year 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 as she believes her father is having an affair, then a disastrous meeting with her boyfriend’s mother, and finally the looming sale of her parents’ home. The stress of life is proving too overwhelming, and Winona 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 normal…relatively speaking. Jessica Barden is absolutely brilliant in her portrayal of Winona, and Kelly Oxford’s story is equally insightful. Not knowing anything about Oxford, 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…well…perfect. I love the fact that as parents in the 1990s, they don’t know what’s happening with Winona, and their reputation as good parents are put in jeopardy. Rounding out the cast is 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.

Pink Skies Ahead (2020)

Directed and Written: Kelly Oxford

Starring: Jessica Barden, Henry Winkler, Rosa Salazar, Lewis Pullman, Devon Bostick, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael McKean, Mary J. Blige, Odeya Rush, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Pink Skies Ahead Image

"…knows a thing or two about panic attacks and captures an authentic story..."

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