Movie Review By Andrea Chase
Anna, the heroine of "Whatever" drifts through a world that would be one of quiet desperation, set in 1981, if it weren't for her rampant apathy. She's smart, but what passes for teaching at her suburban New Jersey high school squelches any interest in scholarly pursuits. Her mother drifts in at dawn's early light wearing last night's cut-rate finery and vague dreams of being a good parent by advising Anna not to hope for much out of life. Her best friend, Brenda, parties down with booze-induced gang-bangs.
Anna herself engages in casual sarcasm, drinking, smoking, and ingesting of controlled substances mostly, it seems, in a search for something interesting to do. Teenage rebellion is almost an afterthought. It's also the result of a nurturing, protective instinct to stick close to Brenda, who, as the film unfolds, proves unable to take care of herself for reasons that should be obvious.
Her lifeline to a better life is her dream of being an artist, fed by her art teacher, played as a teddy-bear hipster by Frederic Forrest. He ignores Anna's mistakes to flatter, push, and cajole her to follow her talent. We should all have such mentors.
Liza Weil plays Anna with an expression on her quietly lovely face of earnest irony. Never stooping to soften Anna's hard edges, she nonetheless makes her a person worthy of respect, for her loyalty and for her strength, even if some her choices leave something to be desired.
Writer/director Susan Skoog does a remarkable job of creating Anna's dark world. She nails the incredible pain of female adolescence, from the teachers who destroy Shakespeare to the hormones that block most of the higher brain functions, to the confusion of losing one's virginity. Without being judgmental, she draws us in and makes us care about its people. Each may have made a wrong turn, but few are without merit of some sort. Some are even unexpected heroes. By the end of "Whatever," Anna has learned to recognize that and so have we. It's a journey worth taking.
© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 7/21/98
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