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copyright ©1999-2002

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flick pick | Whatever 1998
Directed + written by: Susan Skoog
Starring: Liza Weil, Chad Morgan
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: serious
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis It’s 1981, and sullen high school senior Anna Stockard has only one vague ambition in life: to get into Cooper Union art school in New York City, become a painter, and leave her flaky, unsupportive single mom, bratty baby brother, and all-around depressing suburban existence behind for good. In the meantime, she whiles away the time by painting, listening to plenty of loud music in her room, smoking her favorite menthols (despite, or maybe because, everyone else seems to find them so disgusting), and indulging in copious amounts of dope and alcohol at parties where her primary purpose seems to be to keep an eye out on her wild and crazy best friend Brenda. Brenda’s beautiful, brash, and has a habit of sleeping with a new scumbag every night. She’s Anna’s complete opposite, but the two share a deep, deep hatred of the lives they’re stuck trudging through. Bored out of her mind and full of resentment at the world in general, Anna’s her own worst enemy, refusing to make any attempt at doing well in school, despite the fact that she’s relatively bright, and desperately insecure about the talent that her very encouraging art teacher, Mr. Chaminsky, is always telling her she’s lucky to have. She’s got potential, and a dream, and if Anna can just find the will to make what she wants happen, life will be okay – so long as she survives the next few months of high school that is.

Review There’s certainly no shortage of gritty coming-of-age dramas lining the video store aisles, but let’s face it: the vast majority of them are boys’ stories, in which girls exist on the periphery as first loves or dream loves or best friends or sisters, symbols and archetypes more than real people. Whatever, on the other hand, is strictly a girl-centered story, and an intelligent, realistic, 100% unsentimental one at that. That this makes Whatever somewhat of a rare find is probably pretty sad, but first-time director Susan Skoog’s tale is notable mainly because it’s such a fresh, authentic, very visceral look at what it means to be an ordinary teenage girl trying to fight a dull, mundane, unsatisfying existence. Star Liza Weil (whom fans of TV’s Gilmore Girls might recognize as the delightfully acerbic Paris) gives a memorable performance as Anna, imbuing her with just the right amount of tough-chick bitterness mixed with girlish vulnerability to make you really sympathize with her, even when she’s acting like a bit of a pretentious/snotty pain-in-the-ass. Even if Anna’s world of drugs, cruel older boys and negligent/abusive parents is pretty foreign to you – and it certainly is to me – there’s a lot about what Anna goes through that rings painfully true for just about all adolescent girlhoods, namely the feelings that you’re not pretty enough, or talented enough, or smart enough, or good enough. The fact that it’s set in 1981 is largely irrelevant – Anna could just as easily be a teenage girl in 2002 -- but the period details, from the excellent music to trendy Brenda’s fashion sense, do evoke the era nicely without resorting to parody or nostalgia, making Anna’s story seem much more personal and specific, even while the character strikes a universal chord.
—reviewed by Y. Sun

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