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Whatever is one in a long list of films about teenagers in their supposedly natural habitat. When they say "natural habitat", they really mean that the director wallowed in depravity and despair - Good Heavens if they ever decided to make a film about decent adolescents who don't drink and screw around, or fornicate with pastry and other non-living things. Whatever was not made by one who decided to buck the trend.
It is, however, compelling to watch because of its raw imagery, up to a point. The two main characters are Anna and Brenda. Anna is an artist who hopes to be accepted into a New York art school, while Brenda is a promiscuous drunk who gets herself into too much trouble (she is gang-raped in the very first shot!). For much of the movie, we are shown the sublte differences between these two friends. Brenda is more likely to take a walk on the wild side, as she gets herself into debased sexual situations, and, also, meets up with a couple of drug dealers, just released from prision, during a party, and has numerous wild nights with them, while experiementing with drugs such as cocaine. Anna, on the other hand, appears to be beyond much of the crap Brenda allows herself to experience. She seems to hang around with Brenda as a protector; someone who watches over her, however futilely. She also has clearly much more potential, as a number of authority figures in her school point out, including her English teacher (in a ridiculous characterization), who constantly treats her with disdain. The flipside of the sardonic English teacher is the art teacher, who attempts to inspire confidence in Anna, mainly because he himself resents his own lack of acheivements, and doesn't want Anna to give up so easily. We don't get much insight into Anna's art; we know that she does still life pictures, but that's all. However, there is a good moment where the art teacher tells her to be passionate about her art, even if the subject is merely a pair of boots.

Anna is clearly at a crossroads; she has the potential to go far in life, but she is also stuck in a social circle which values boredom and heavy intoxication. The rest of the movie details her downfall, and then her potential redemption.

Like I said, the movie is compelling because it is raw, but only up to a point. It is painfully clear that the director (Susan Skoog) made this movie in order to shock. I knew right from the start, when Brenda is gang-raped, that the rest of the film would not tone down the material. The film is vulgar, sexually frank, and wallows in the depressing and pointlessness that is standard adolencense. The film does feel real, even though it is also sensationalistic, and is certainly something that concerned parents may want to take a look at, if they want to see what their kids may be getting into, although it must also be said that you shouldn't take a mere movie too much to heart.

After a while, however, it just gets a bit disgusting, and by doing so, potentially hurting any feelings we may have for the character of Anna. She is not perfect, by any means, and screws up concerning her homework and art, but her actions seem fairly credible, up until she and Brenda fake sick and take a trip to New York. Actually, that's not the unbelievable part; it's what happens later, when they somehow pick up two guys from the street, get drunk with them, then go to a hotel room, where Brenda has sex with one guy in one room, while Anna gives the other guy a blow job, causing her to vomit over him. Later on, Anna actually goes on a road trip with Brenda and the ex-cons to Flordia, and gets into the drugs and alcohol, before waking up naked on the beach. I found all of this to be problematic - it does turn your feelings toward Anna around, because she no longer seems as if she has her head screwed on reasonably striaght. Of course, that may be the point; she has to suffer a lot before she sees the light. But this is the kind of movie where, at first glance, you feel the director pushes things too far.

To be fair, however, I'm more confused than anything, because on the one hand I wonder if it was neccessary for them to go as far as they did, and on the other hand, the fact that the film does do this shows that the director had a lot of nerve. A real plus is that it is directed and seen from a female point of view; the young women are the focal point of the drama, and are not secondary characters. Somehow, as well, I find it much easier to sympathize with confused teenage girls than with stupid teenage boys, so, even while I wonder if everything in this story needed to be told, it was much easier to take with these two protagonists.

I wish that the ending was a bit different, though. Anna's a potential artist; how about transforming her life experiences into art? I also thought she seemed too bright to find herself in that hotel room, or on that road trip. Maybe if she had to be at either of those two places, there could have been some actual diolouge between these two friends about the kind of lives that they are truly leading. I don't even recall anything in the dialouge that suggested that these kids ever questioned anything that occured; certainly, not a single mention is made of the gang rape, which is probably more disturbing than the actual event. Do these people think it is normal; that it is healthy?? Shouldn't there be some sort of consequence? I think much of the reason I had a problem with this film is because there is no moral ground; Skoog is able to depict the lifestyle, and is at ease at showing us the ugly depths, but is unable to tell us what she stands for. Does she really have a problem with this lifestyle, or does she just tack on an incomplete ending to appease more moderate folk, just like Russ Meyer tacked on social relevancy so he wouldn't be accused of making pornography? The movie gets a recommendation from me; I just wished that there was more to recommend.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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