Ben is a failing musician facing both a midlife crisis and a tense marriage with his wife Tor, who has become obsessed with decluttering their home together. She tosses much of the detritus of his past life into a “skip,” a dumpster she’s rented during the process.
But when an unconventional young artist takes Ben’s old belongings, Ben follows her and discovers the art she makes with his cast-offs. Rediscovering the joy and spark within his past belongings — as well as striking up an unconventional friendship with the “skip girl” — gives him back some of his mojo, helping him move forward in his life.
Writer-director Annabel Vine’s sharp yet warmly witty comedy is emotionally grounded in one man reckoning with his past — literally and figuratively — which helps him also figure out his present and future. Astutely observed and with a lightness of touch that neither overplays the comedy or glosses over the sticky emotions underlying the characters’ dilemmas, it’s a humorous, affectionate take on the midlife crisis, handled with intelligence and empathy.
Like many comedies grounded in authentic emotional dilemmas, the film succeeds with a foundation of solid, perceptive writing and performances, and the script is able to evoke Ben’s entire life and identity in a compact, economical way. It’s also helped by a cleanly naturalistic visual sense, particularly in the set and well-chosen props, which play a key role in the storytelling. Tor and Ben’s home has the minimalist sleekness of a certain aspirational upwardly mobile milieu, but his “junk” has a more lo-fi feel that clashes with his life.
What’s remarkable is how the performances and writing are able to subtly color each character without caricature, endowing each with a distinctive perspective. Tor could easily be painted as a shrew, but while she seems compulsive about the cleaning-out process, she retains her dignity and viewers get a sense that a film told from her perspective would be equally as funny and illuminating. Ben, too, could easily be played by actor Richard Glover as a “man-child,” but instead he’s played with a nice balance of genuine bewilderment and frustration at his status in life and a gentle awakening of his more carefree, free-spirited side.
Pursuing the titular character in “Skip Girl” puts Ben back in touch with this side of himself, but here the writing also avoids typical film cliches. The “skip girl” isn’t a manic pixie dream girl, but an artist with her own concerns and priorities, and she evokes the pure possibility and creativity of youth, where one improvises art, and even life, based on what’s at hand and what’s inspiring, unfettered by the often fixed responsibilities of adulthood.
Ben has been stuck in a life that he hasn’t had a hand in shaping — either because of his own passivity — but he realizes that must change going forward. It’s something everyone has to reckon with: taking responsibility not just of bills, mortgages, homes and families, but of one’s agency and authorship of one’s life, and making the rest of existence personal and meaningful.