Whatever

1998, R, 112 min. Directed by Susan Skoog. Starring Liza Weil, Chad Morgan, Frederic Forrest, Kathryn Rossiter, Marc Riffon, Dan Montano, John G. Connolly.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 7, 1998

Troubled suburban teenhood - it's rich narrative subject matter at least as old as the movies. It's hard to add much that's new to the film genre that has bred such timeless classics as Rebel Without a Cause, Over the Edge, and most recently, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Yet writer-director Susan Skoog has found a large measure of success in her first narrative feature outing, Whatever. Set in the early 1980s, Whatever captures a strong sense of realism as it focuses on two female best friends caught between the end of high school and the rest of their lives. With almost frightening clarity, Skoog's film spotlights that precipice of time in which teens become so acutely aware that the actions they take in the present will have consequences that affect the rest of their lives. Also, her film departs from the standard coming-of-age pack in its particular focus on 17-year-old girls and its vivid re-creation of their specific concerns. Anna (Weil) is a high-school senior in an anonymous Jersey town, who desperately wants to grow up and grow out of her situation. She shows promising artistic talent but her passive-aggressive attitude keeps getting her in trouble at school, be it for smoking or incomplete homework assignments. She also has to grapple with the how and when of losing her virginity (of course, with the wrong boy), and she has her hands full at home with a pesky little brother and a single mom who dates a horrid troll out of desperation. Her best friend Brenda (Morgan), on the other hand, would need a slide rule to rediscover her virginity, lost so long ago in a serial daze of uninspiring encounters. The movie is best when it sticks to the observational, as in the startling opening sequence which shows the unsatisfying and unromantic sex act as experienced by Brenda. (In this, the film echoes the jarring opening of Sarah Jacobson' s female-centric Mary Jane' s Not a Virgin Anymore.) Unfortunately, Whatever also wanders along episodically and piles on more dramatic baggage than it can withstand. Brenda, too, comes from a desperate home situation that adds a completely unnecessary subplot to the film. And Anna's attempt to win a scholarship to Cooper Union -- New York City's prestigious art college -- is aided by an over-the-top Frederic Forrest as a hip-daddio high-school art teacher. Although the central performances of Weil and Morgan are subtle and compelling, most everyone else around them comes across as strained and disruptively unconvincing. The no-nonsense visual style keeps things anchored and despite its dramatic lapses, Whatever comes across as a potent dose of reality. It's as good a look as we've ever seen onscreen of that bleak, reactionary “whatever” passivity that derails so many teens.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Liza Weil Films
Mars
...

Nov. 24, 2020

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Sound Unseen Review: <i>Stardust</i>
Sound Unseen Review: Stardust
The birth of Bowie the icon retold with more glimmer than glitter

Nov. 16, 2020

Damnation
Béla Tarr's turning point drama lovingly and bleakly restored

Nov. 13, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Whatever, Susan Skoog, Liza Weil, Chad Morgan, Frederic Forrest, Kathryn Rossiter, Marc Riffon, Dan Montano, John G. Connolly

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle