Mental health is a topic that is now talked about more often, but there are still many stigmas. Specifically— with anxiety—the notion of a person having a panic disorder or experiencing overwhelming feelings has its own misconceptions. Canadian author, director and screenwriter Kelly Oxford has penned and directed her latest film, ‘Pink Skies Ahead,’ which is inspired about her own personal struggles with anxiety, and it explores that exact notion and beyond.
The story follows Winona (Jessica Barden) who, after dropping out of college and moving back in with her parents, is diagnosed with a panic disorder in Los Angeles in 1998. Winona however isn’t so sure about what the doctor says, and continues her life on her own terms, and audiences are brought along for the ride.
This film is part of MTV’s newly launched Mental Health is Health initiative and is premiering on the network for a special event. However, the pull comes from not only the story, but the cast of superb actors (spanning Marcia Gay Harden, Mary J. Blige and Henry Winkler just to name a few) and the nostalgic feel of the film, which emotes those bubblegum feelings into a meaningful story.
Actress Barden has had her own bouts with anxiety, and talks about how that influenced her role and what else went into making ‘Pink Skies Ahead.’
What was it about this role or project that interested you to want to sign on?
I had known Kelly online for a long time. Although we had never met in person, I knew she was someone I would get along with, but when she asked me to literally play her in a movie she was making, I was like she made a mistake, I am not cool enough! But I was so flattered and I mainly just wanted to hang out with her. At the time I read this script, December 2018, I was so much like Winona. I was so confused by my anxiety I had no idea there was a better way to live that was healthier and I wanted to be able to do something constructive with my own anxiety at the time.
Did you discuss the role with director Kelly Oxford, since this is inspired by her own battle with an anxiety disorder? Did you do anything else specific to get ready for this role?
[Kelly and I] continued to discuss our lives really as we had been doing for years, but now we knew we would be creating a person and a movie together. I had read her books and I just wanted to talk to her about so many of the stories and how they happened to me also… You can not believe how similar our lives have been.
Winona has a constant inner battle throughout the film with trying to figure out what makes her “different” and then not wanting to admit that there is anything wrong. Do you think this is a common battle with people dealing with different disorders?
I definitely struggled with this and I still have days where I’m like “[I] wonder if I could just stop therapy”—mainly because it’s expensive but also because I want to be ‘normal’. I [want to] be someone that doesn’t think about the future and worry if I’m going to be a massive failure or die. It’s tiring having anxiety and you don’t want it.
You get to work with a wide variety of talented actors on the cast of this film. Does any scene or character relationship stand out to you in particular?
Henry kept doing the magic trick from his movie Click and I realized an hour into it that he fully is carrying around the coin to do that trick…We don’t make actors like that anymore.
Do you think this film will help de-stigmatize some common tropes of anxiety disorder?
I hope this film helps to change the identity of someone with anxiety. In the past, I was always told I was too confident to have anxiety or I dressed too over the top. People think someone with anxiety is shy and afraid of people, that’s not the case. I think Winona represents a different type of person than we usually see, she is the loudest person in the room and she also has anxiety.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is that it doesn’t force Winona to try and fix absolutely everything in her life, because I think that’s impossible for anyone. Are there any other characteristics of the movie that had the same effect on you?
I like how the film shows her friends and family reacting to her diagnosis. Everyone is just chill about it, they just respect it and are not shocked. They don’t make a big deal or go to any crazy effort, it’s just handled calmly and like just another day of their lives.
Overall, what do you hope audiences take away from ‘Pink Skies,’ especially when it comes to mental health?
I hope people will start to recognize their own anxiety in themselves and others and practice more patience…Maybe you will identify for the first time with Winona and see [yourself] have feelings of a panic episode and see [the] need to be kinder to yourself…Or you will see that maybe your teacher has panic attacks and give them more space next time in a class.
‘Pink Skies Ahead’ will premiere as a commercial-free event on MTV, Saturday, May 8, as part of MTV’s newly-launched Mental Health is Health initiative.