Film Review: Reality Bites (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Helen Childress
Music by: Karl Wallinger
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, David Spade (uncredited), Anthony Robbins (uncredited), Jeanne Tripplehorn (uncredited)

Jersey Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.” – Troy Dyer

This was a coming of age movie that I loved when it came out back in 1994. Watching it nearly a quarter of a century later, I hate most of these characters and just see them as the typical “I’m such a cool counterculture ’90s slacker” type. But the reality is, I watched this film about struggling twentysomethings before I was even twenty. Now, being in my thirties and having survived my twenties, it has a very different effect on me now.

All the philosophical rantings are just nonsense. However, what I may have thought were good points when I was an angsty teenager (but I laugh at now) can’t simply be dismissed as shitty dialogue. If anything, this film is a product of ’90s Generation X culture. It certainly isn’t an inaccurate portrayal of it. These ideas, these philosophies and the living hypocrisy of those who espoused it was real. It’s what a big portion of that generation felt and how they saw the world, as they entered it as adults with a very different point-of-view than their Baby Boomer parents.

If anything, this film serves as a real time capsule to the ’90s. And really, are these young people different than those of other generations?

Everything I’m saying isn’t really criticism, it’s just my understanding of these things now. Sure, every young person thought Ethan Hawke was cool in this movie and Winona Ryder was sort of this elven looking ’90s girl next door that everyone was crushing on hard. However, seen outside of twentysomething eyes, they’re not likable characters. They’re selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and complete hypocrites. I couldn’t find myself cheering for them to make it as a couple. In my thirties, I found that I was more interested in Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn’s characters, as they actually had more interesting stories, seemed more grounded and were infinitely more likable. I knew that they would turn out okay.

Going back and seeing the things I wrote or put on social media when I was in my twenties is always a cringe worthy experience. So I can’t imagine what these characters would think now, looking back at the documentary Ryder’s Lelaina was creating out of their lives. I hope they all evolved well beyond where they were at this point in their lives.

Primarily, the point of this film is to show what it is like for Gen Xers to be leaving college and trying to make it in the real world. Yeah, it’s tough out there, we all get that if we’ve lived through it without uber rich parents. But that is where I can relate to the film. And also because these were people that weren’t too dissimilar from my friends at the same age. Those who I am still friends with evolved and grew into better people. Those I am no longer friends with stayed the same and still rant on about the same crap that neither makes them cool anymore and just makes them come off as poorly aged turds.

But I still like this movie. I like it because it actually is accurate… scarily accurate. Ben Stiller did a good job behind the camera, especially since he had to split his time with acting duties in this as well. But it is kind of sad to relive life through the experiences of these fictitious characters, now realizing that we were all full of shit.

We had high hopes, all this optimism, we thought we’d change the world and fix the wrongs of our parents generation. However, our parents thought the same thing and so did their parents. “Down with consumerism!” “Hey, let’s order Domino’s!” “Don’t be a fucking sellout, man!” “Hey, some major network wants to buy my show!” And in the end, the world is the same. Maybe a bit worse, actually.

This is definitely more of an analysis of this film’s philosophies and characters and less of an actual review but whatever. I can write what I want because I’m not selling my soul to some corporate sponsored publisher that murders whales and dumps crude oil on the heads of Third World infants, maaan!

Someone pointed out to me that the script was written by a 19 year-old girl. Of course it was. Granted, props to her 19 year-old self (who would be in her forties now) for accomplishing such a feat. Seriously. It’s a film that felt truly authentic. It sadly just shows you that young people mostly suck because life hasn’t made them better yet.

I kind of think Troy just stayed a total starving artist douchebag though. And despite the “happy” ending, he probably still sneaked out the next morning.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: SinglesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

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