Reality Bites Reviews
In the twenty-two years since its release, "Reality Bites" has become a touchstone in the capturing of the woes that befell Generation X. Arguably, few other movies have so authentically portrayed the confusions and the lows of being a young adult trying to navigate the world. Its Helen Childress penned screenplay beautifully engages with the youthfully scary unknowns of marriage, professional happiness, and personal contentment, and the direction, by a twenty-nine year old Ben Stiller, validly characterizes such adversities and makes them universal.
The film follows the trials and tribulations that overtake the lives of a quartet of friends in the wake of college graduation. Their leader, Lelaina, was valedictorian but is struggling to find the right job in a field that isn't ready to have her. Her sidekick, Vickie (Janeane Garafolo), declares that all she learned in college was her Social Security number; currently, she's working as an assistant manager at the Gap, covering her misery in wry wit to tell herself otherwise. Sammy (Steve Zahn) is perhaps occupationally steady but is nonetheless tormented by his still being in the closet; and Troy (Ethan Hawke), whom Lelaina head-scratchingly considers to be her best friend, is a slacker who reassures his ego that his coffeehouse homed musical performances will eventually go somewhere bigger than himself.
We'll never know if these characters do end up finding the happiness they're all so desperately seeking -- focused on are their attempts to get to that point -- but while "Reality Bites" exceptionally distinguishes the frustrations of its characters and intelligently brings empathetic urgency to the bountiful dissensions that overwhelm people in their twenties, it fails in the creation of its central conflict, which is the love triangle that exists between Lelaina, Troy, and an older man, Michael (Stiller), who's also professionally interested in her.
Childress is convinced that the right guy for our leading lady is Troy, despite the fact that he's a selfish poser who reads ponderous novels immersed in existentialism as he combs his greasy hair and strokes his three-day beard, waiting for his next opportunity to humiliate her. He treats her badly more than he treats her right, but we're made to believe that it's all a ruse to cover inner conflict. He doesn't really mean to be so bad; some people are just unconventional in how they show their love for someone.
But supposedly Michael is miles worse, if only because he accidentally botches Lelaina's shot at notoriety. Though he's more considerate of, more interested in, and more patient with her than Troy could ever be, he's made as the film's villain, a backwards notion that dramatically inhibits "Reality Bites" from being the great movie it has the potential to be. When a film doesn't seem to know its characters as well as its audience does, irreversible is the damage done to its overarching success.
And so the movie is only occasionally terrific, greatly hindered by the reality that maybe it isn't so wise after all. But Ryder is luminous, Garafolo an embodiment of barbed shrewdness, Hawke genuinely detestable. "Reality Bites" is excellent until it isn't anymore, and it's a shame that it undermines its acumen with the forced fakery that it mostly curbs.
Troy Dyer: Honey, all you have to be by the time you're 23 is yourself.
Lelaina Pierce: I don't know who that is anymore.
Troy Dyer: I do. And we all love her. I love her. She breaks my heart again and again, but I love her.
While it's not perfect, and not an absolute favourite, I do enjoy it. Particularly Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofolo. Vicky, in particular was a very good character. I love her look and quirky personality.
I do find Ethan Hawke's Troy an absolute twat, and that has only increased over the years. I can't believe he's the supposed hot guy you are meant to feel for. A womanising, chain smoking slacker. Mmm. Does it for me.
Ben Stiller's character is a bit too yuppie to really cheer on, but he's preferable to Troy.
Quite nostalgic 90's viewing and some good music on the soundtrack including Juliana Hatfield.