Those moments from high school, when the realization kicks in that even the closest friendships end and the best laid plans for a phenomenal future aren't going to unfold smoothly, is what writer-director Susan Skoog captures in Whatever.
Set in Skoog's hometown of Red Bank, N.J. (although this low-budget independent was filmed in more economically friendly Wheeling, W. Va.), Whatever follows best friends Anna Stockard (Liza Weil) and Brenda Talbot (Chad Morgan) during a rough and tumble last few weeks of high school.
At first glance, the two couldn't be more different. Anna, an aspiring painter who haltingly admits that her biggest fear is "being ordinary," seems an odd friend for Brenda, who has turned promiscuity into her own art form. What they do have in common more than compensates: divorced mothers who are more than willing to relinquish the leadership role in their households to the first available man, and the ability to ingest massive quantities of cheap alcohol and whatever drugs they can score.
This being the just-say-no, pre-AIDS '80s, their rebellion is going according to plan. Anna, dismissive of her blandly conformist suburban surroundings, plots out a future in New York City as a bohemian art student. Brenda, who finds her power in the ability to attract men, lives very much in the here and now.
Director Skoog is adept at reconstructing the specific texture of bored adolescence (the numerous, hormone-fueled, desperate teenage parties blur together), but doesn't accomplish much else in her rambling, shambling film. In addition to the frank, unapologetic and persistent alcohol, cigarette and drug use, Skoog doesn't shy away from sex which, like everything else in Whatever, is utterly devoid of glamour.
But what's odd in this film about girls exploring their options is that sex is presented as something that men do and women take, either by getting drunk or just gritting their teeth. This just highlights the paradoxical nature of Whatever. Susan Skoog asserts that high school is the defining period of a person's life, but can't show anything more than its insignificance.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].