“Don’t expect so much. It’s a little easier that way.”
Anna (Liza Weil) is the 17 year old protagonist of the film Whatever and the film’s title reflects Anna’s attitude. A New Jersey high school senior with aspirations to attend Art College on a scholarship, Anna drifts along emotionally detached from her family and peers. Anna’s primary relationship is with fellow drifter, Brenda (Chad Morgan). Brenda is the more troubled of the two girls, and she’s become “popular” by generously sharing her body with any male who glances in her direction. Brenda is completely out of touch with reality–and in this case, the reality is that Brenda is heading for disaster. While Anna chain smokes, ditches class, and accepts various illegal substances with a “why not?” attitude, Brenda preens in front of the mirror before each “date” and swigs large amounts of alcohol to forget her pain.
Anna and Brenda are a mismatched pair. Anna is quiet and serious, but Brenda wants life to be one big party–preferably with a long line of males in attendance. The thing they have in common is they’re both desperately unhappy, and while Brenda seeks thrills and escape, Anna goes along for the ride–simply because she lacks anything else to do. Anna reaches out to forge a connection with Martin (Marc Riffon), a pretentious young man who lives in his parents’ garage.
The adults in the film are portrayed as a rather pathetic lot–some are treated with more sympathy than others. Brenda and Anna view most of the adults as hurdles that must be avoided or placated in order to get through the average day. Anna’s mother is a divorced and desperate middle-aged woman who neglects her home and family to dance attendance on a ridiculously unsuitable (and married) beau. Anna’s mother and her friend prepare for an evening out and while they both look like some sort of has-been drag queens, both women ironically offer their opinions on Anna’s lack of effort when it comes to picking clothes.
Anna and Brenda meet up with two men who’ve recently been released from jail, and in some ways the men mirror Brenda and Anna’s relationship. One of the men is wilder & more aggressive, while his partner is quieter, more thoughtful, and at times appalled by his friend’s behaviour. To Brenda, these young toughs represent a ticket out of New Jersey. And once again, Anna gets involved simply because she’s along for the ride.
As a film about teens, Whatever creates a main character who hasn’t yet found her moral bearings. While there’s hope that Anna will stop drifting along with whatever comes her way, the film doesn’t touch on those issues. Instead director Susan Skoog concentrates on portraying Anna’s world as a place fraught with peril and occasions for activities that could bear devastating consequences. We are left with the notion that to survive the teen years–more or less intact–is pure luck. With a great 80s soundtrack that includes The Ramones, Blondie, Iggy Pop, the Pretenders and Motorhead, Whatever is a marvelous depiction of morally adrift teens.