Whatever is a depressing little film. The title refers not to the current airbrained, exasperated "whatever," popularized in the movie Clueless, but an affectless, I-could-kill-myself-but-I-don't-have-the-energy "whatever." Whatever is an indie version of a movie-of-the-week; I felt like I had seen it before. Several times. It's the early '80s in what passes for a typical New Jersey high school, and Anna Stockard is ready to graduate. Anna is a fledgling artist, but many things stand in her way. She needs a full scholarship to be able to attend Cooper Union, her school of choice. Her friend Brenda is luring her away from schoolwork into the pleasures of the fast, sleazy life. Anna is tempted, particularly by a neo-hippie dude with a VW bus and artistic pretensions. Her real problem, though, is the Father Who Left Them and her newly divorced mother's behavior. (She's currently donning clingy dresses to go discoing with a 60-year-old married guy named Howard. Whatever.) In other words, Whatever grabs every cliché it can and seems intent on not making any of them fresh. So we have a female New Jersey teen who wants to go to art school in New York. What are the chances that this film is not going to have a big-day-skipping-school-in-the-city montage backed by a Patti Smith song? Zero. (It's "Dancing Barefoot.") However, most of the performances are pretty good: Liza Weil as Anna comes across as perfectly natural and unforced. Chad Morgan plays her buddy Brenda as one of those girls who have to keep looking at boys to make sure they know she's there, and unless they do, she's really not. Weil's Anna looks at men warily, and it's only after they've given her a reason to be interested in them do you even see the whites of her eyes; otherwise she keeps them hooded in boredom. (She rolls them up in a perfect, doubtful shrug of regret after a disappointing sexual encounter with the VW dude.) But Frederic Forrest as Anna's hipster-doofus art teacher/mentor is particularly bad, as if he'd been grafted in from an old episode of "Baretta."
"I'm afraid of being ordinary," Anna confesses, and she may well be ordinary (the only reason she would seem extraordinary is that everyone around her is pretty much a moron). But, to Weil's credit, Anna doesn't need to be extraordinary for you to believe in her.