“Breakdown, breakthrough,” Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) says in Cameron Crowe’s film of the same name, in a very cliche way, in a very cookie cutter scenario. Jerry gets inspired to change his life after he has a bad pizza. He wakes up with the sweats as it hits him he needs to make a change, his body reacts to what he has been avoiding, awakening of his conscience, doing what’s right for others, rather than doing only what’s right for him. After he makes a decision to live more in a moral light, it alters everything in his life, breakthrough. This is not a personal essay about “Jerry Maguire”, but just to illustrate there are a lot of movies that pull you in with this premise and this kind of character, but it’s Kelly Oxford’s “Pink Skies Ahead” that resonates the most for me, as it touches on similars struggles as myself. What she brings to screen is not represented enough.

Photo by Tiffany Roohani (Vogue)

Kelly Oxford wrote and directed the film, and based it on her own experiences dealing with anxiety in her early twenties. She created the main character Winona played by the talented Jessica Barden modeled after herself, a witty and sharp writer. Jessica Barden’s performance in this film and every performance I’ve seen blows me away. This particular performance in “Pink Skies Ahead” hits home for me the most. Before I dive in to my story, a quote from my interview with Jessica, that shows her awareness of the importance of the roles she plays and what she represents through her performance. In her words “immortal”:

The first movie that I watched was “The Wizard of Oz”, and I couldn’t believe that everyone who acted in it was dead. But they were alive to me because they were on screen. I thought that was pretty cool, and I was like, ‘Why doesn’t everyone want to be an actor?’ There is obviously something quite infantile about that way of thinking. I guess the only thing that translates to my performance is that I’m always aware that you are making something that has the potential to be around for some time. You should try to do a good job because if you’re embarrassed by it, you’re going to be embarrassed for a long time.

Jessica Barden

Jessica’s performance in “Pink Skies Ahead” brought me to a place that transported me to a real experience I’ve had, and I’ve never seen that before onscreen, in that way. A particular scene in the film makes my chest tighten and breaks my heart reminding me of my own struggles. I’ll get into the importance of that scene later.

Jessica Barden on set of “Pink Skies Ahead” (IMDB)

I’ve really had two phases of my anxiety and depression, the first phase was when I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 21. I wrote about that experience in my personal essay, “Not just Gilda, But Rita too”. In my twenties it was the anxiety that stemmed from my mania and depression. This was before I was properly medicated and got the therapy I needed. Now, the second phase, in my thirties, I’ve been dealing with an anxiety that is similar to what Winona deals with in her early twenties. It started for me during the pandemic, and when certain life changes (good and not so good) came into my life, I started to get these stomach aches, and hot flashes. When Winona feels pain in her armpit, I can totally relate. She goes to the doctor, her childhood doctor, Dr. Cotton, played by Henry Winkler. And of course, nothing is wrong after all the tests they run, because it’s the anxiety that brings her to these psychosomatic conditions.

I was convinced at first I was getting menopause early. I was really concerned because it was the first time in awhile that I was struggling with anxiety in a debilitating way, which unlocked my depression. Since I don’t have insurance, I was unable to get the therapy I needed or check myself into a facility. After the new year, I started going through The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, and began practicing mindfulness. This was a game changer for me. By a daily practice of mindfulness and meditation it has brought more awareness to my senses: smell, taste, sight, and touch. Every time I start getting anxious, when my stomach starts to hurt, and I get over heated, I now have this tool that helps calm me down. For example, a few months ago I was in the grocery store and I started to get anxious. I stopped and looked around me, the produce became vibrant, the reds of the peppers, the greens of the parsley, and it was beautiful. It’s kind of like a super power that I don’t think many people are aware of, and should know about. When you’re mindful of your surroundings, you have more control of your physical manifestations.

Jessica Barden and Lewis Pullman in MTV Entertainment Studios’ “Pink Skies Ahead”

When I watched “Pink Skies Ahead” Winona starts the film saying she wants to be “normal”, that’s her goal. I think by the end she learns her new normal. That’s what happened to me, and continues to evolve, this new normal. Embracing that It’s okay not to be okay”, and accepting the not okay part. Winona spends the film trying to be normal by getting a “normal” boyfriend (Lewis Pullman). I remember when I did that. I wanted to jump from my difficulty with my manic depression to meeting a man that was normal, and marrying him. What I should have been doing at that time was working on coping with my anxiety and depression so I could live a manageable life. After I broke up with this guy, I jumped on every distraction that came my way, kind of like Winona. It’s painfully lonely to not have people to talk to about your mental illness because you feel that no one will understand. Like Winona at that time I didn’t really understand why I was feeling certain things, and how I could get better, and live a manageable existence. So what I did was take any distraction that came my way to not think about the reality of my mental illness.

A very hard to watch scene for me, mentioned above with my aching chest, and broken heart, is when Winona’s anxiety comes to a head, after her boyfriend dumps her, she passes out in her job interview, has a very awkward encounter with her soon to be ex-boyfriend’s mother, played by the talented Melora Walters, and her parents kick her out of the house they are soon to be selling. This results in a panic attack and makes it hard for her to breathe, or even move. I can feel what she’s feeling in that scene. You feel frozen, and you’re losing it, and your body takes over what you aren’t processing. This was the breakdown, breakthrough part for me, and Winona.

Rosa Salazar, Jessica Barden, and Odeya Rush in “Pink Skies Ahead” IMDB

In the film, and similar to my life, the breakthrough is feeling the love and support from your parents and friends. Also, when you start to share your struggles, you can be very surprised about what is revealed by people who are close to you. After her panic attack, Winona finds out that her father (Michael McKean) has dealt with similar anxieties. When people start to open up, you don’t feel as alone anymore.

This film’s end is not tied up with a bow, it ends with an ellipsis. But what’s important is that Winona has evolved. My life has evolved a lot since my twenties, and even in the past couple months. I’m getting married in July, and I know there are exciting adventures and even challenges ahead. But what I remember through practicing mindfulness is when a second goes by, it’s gone, and there are many seconds ahead, but I want to live in this second, now.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.