Slack of Interest

Except when they've been busy defeating the Nazis or something like that, every generation of young adults has whined. Usually it's about their poverty and their crappy prospects and the failure of the world to recognize their innate value and reward them accordingly with money, praise and sex.

But it's doubtful that any generation has ever found its own whining as fascinating as the so-called "Generation X" does. No theme is so characteristic of contemporary white, middle-class American writers, filmmakers and musicians in their 20s as that of dissatisfied analysis of their lives and culture--almost as if this griping constitutes an art form in itself. And in the best works of the genre, like Richard Linklater's Slacker or Kevin Smith's Clerks, it very nearly does.

None of these observations is new; they were part of the punditry that accompanied the appearance of both Slacker and Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X, nearly seven years ago. That's the problem for Green (a.k.a. Whatever), the debut feature of Valley filmmaker Karl T. Hirsch: It's late.

Writer/director/producer/co-star Hirsch started work on the film, shot entirely in and around Phoenix, in 1994, while a student at Scottsdale Community College, and completed it in 1996. It's had a variety of festival screenings and picked up some awards--the Audience Favourite Award at the 1998 Victoria Independent Film Festival in British Columbia, and the Breakthrough Film Award at the '98 Newport Beach International Film Festival. New Times named Hirsch "Best Local Twentysomething Filmmaker" in its 1997 Best of Phoenix supplement. Yet the film has no major distributor, and is only now getting an "official" area opening, at the Valley Art Theatre in Tempe.

During much of its life, Green was known simply as Whatever. Hirsch changed it to the current title after another indie called Whatever found distribution. The new title, which refers to the color of the pills taken by the central characters, is an improvement--there's a certain off-putting effrontery in the casualness of the lone word "whatever."

What makes Green's belatedness regrettable is that, allowing for some technical glitches and limitations, it's quite an engaging little slackerbabble comedy, and, no doubt in large part because of its excellent young cinematographer D. Evan Long, it has a startlingly sophisticated visual sense. There's not much variance to the four main characters or to their problems, but this, at least theoretically, is Hirsch's point, and he's given the movie an episodic structure that keeps it from becoming (overly) monotonous. Some pretty good "complaint rock" kvetches on the soundtrack.

The plot has four college friends--at least two of whom are philosophy majors--spending Thanksgiving vacation together in Phoenix. Ralph (Matt Gallagher) is a film student who's terrified of commitment. Eric (Hyrum Patterson), one of the philosophy majors, is a relatively contented minimum-wage slave. Joanna (Dana Millican) flits from one man to another, in open pursuit of a perfect mate, and assuming that each man she sleeps with is he. This, of course, scares off every such prospect. Dave (Hirsch), the other philosophy major, is a discontented minimum-wage slave who flits from one job to another--poet, auto mechanic, stage actor--always with the same outcome--somebody tells him "You suck."

These backstories come to us as four trips, kudos the green "designer hallucinogens" bought in the opening scene by Eric from a genial drug dealer (amusingly played by Tom Wheeler). Hirsch gives each of these vignettes its own stylized tone. The most remarkable of them is "Eric's Trip," a riff on the liberating aspects of being unambitious and meagerly employed, dazzlingly presented in stop-motion animation by cinematographer Long. This more expressionistic, less plot-driven format is an agreeable throwback to films of the psychedelic '60s.

Though Hirsch, at some level, is parodying the postadolescent angst of his characters, it's hard to escape the feeling that their worries are too vacuous even to warrant parody. What saves Green is Hirsch's wit, and the confidence of his filmmaking, and the relaxed, pleasant performances of the actors, including Hirsch himself. Although getting it onscreen probably felt like a labor of Hercules, Green is not, in itself, an important movie. It is an enjoyable one, and for Hirsch, who is soon to start work on his second film, Killer Bud, it's a demonstration of his ability as a filmmaker. He doesn't suck.

Green (a.k.a. Whatever)
Directed by Karl T. Hirsch.


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