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|Index||145 reviews in total|
The first time I reviewed "Reality Bites" I was 15, and I had missed
much of the film's point, praising it without critique. The second time
was after viewing the film again a year later, upon which I began to
notice things that I had naively ignored, such as just what
self-centred people the characters were. I re-reviewed it, this time
with an overly negative response. It was not until my third watching,
and third review, of the film that I returned to my initial opinion,
this time with reasons rooted in aspects of the film it had taken me 2
years to spot.
Comedy star Ben Stiller is most well known for his comic portrayals of characters cursed with incredibly bad luck (see Meet the Parents, There's Something about Mary, Zoolander). His career as a director is not nearly as extensive as that of his acting, although he has appeared in every film he's directed. For those wondering, it all started in 1994, with romantic comedy "Reality Bites".
Winona Ryder plays Lelaina Pierce, a fresh-faced college graduate who works a frustrated job as assistant producer for a cheesy talk show, while in her own time she enjoys filming her friends Vicky (Janeane Garofalo), Sammy (Steve Zahn) and good-looking rebel Troy (Ethan Hawke) in an amateur documentary on the disenfranchised lives of Generation X called 'Reality Bites'. In a mild car accident she meets Michael (Stiller), a sweet-hearted businessman, and they begin a romantic relationship, from which sparks talk of taking her documentary to the commercial network Michael works for. Amidst this, tensions between Lelaina and Troy begin to rise as his feelings for her become clearer...
"Reality Bites" is the kind of film that is prone to misperception. The movie has an under-the-radar subtlety to it that was widely missed even by advocators of the film. While the characters are given sensitive treatment in the script and in performance, they are also portrayed with the hidden agenda of satirizing the generation they exemplify and the culture of that generation. On one level this is apparent: the constant 90's culture references, quotes such as Troy's response to promptings from Lelaina while documenting him: "I am not under any orders to make the world a better place". The more hidden layer of subtlety comes in the form of the film's general Hollywood treatment and product placement: the film makers chose a undeniably commercial approach to a subject that is widely presented as such (life and love in the 1990's), while the specific matters and characters in the movie were based around independent and "un-commercial" philosophy. This means the film is, by its very nature, ironic on more than one level.
Critics of the film were mostly irritated by the main characters' stereotypical personalities and subsequently found them to be boring. This misses another of the film's points: the characters are deliberately stereotypical and too often were the naïve and condescending opinions of these characters, namely Lelaina and Troy, mistaken for the morals of the film. "Reality Bites" doesn't believe that Lelaina is a genius documentarian, it doesn't believe that Troy is a brilliant and secretly reliable guy and it doesn't believe Michael deserves the rotten deal he gets. It just shows how this kind of cultural mentality plays out in practice.
That being said, one very straight-forward quality of the film is the acting performances. All four members of the lead cast do excellent jobs; they nail their characters with succinct accuracy. Ethan Hawke is the stand out performance, as the brooding and condescending Troy, a character most unlike any of the others he has played before or since. Ryder is at her best here, in a performance topped only by that of Girl, Interrupted. Stiller, too, delivers solidly, even if the role is very similar to others he has played.
"Reality Bites" may strike a resonate note of realism for members of Generation X, but that really isn't its ultimate goal. Essentially this is a film that doesn't necessarily wear its heart on its sleeve, but serves as moderately engaging entertainment of a slightly more insightful nature than others of its kind.
I really enjoyed this movie. Looking back in hindsight, I can see the
selfishness of the characters, and I have read the complaints about
this, but isn't that kind of the whole point of the movie? It's about
people talking about not "selling out" while at the same time they ARE
"selling out" in many different ways. They (the characters in the
movie) are all consumers who satirize the very idea of "consumerism"
but refuse to "stoop down to the level" of getting menial jobs to try
and pay the bills. The movie defines for me how education isn't
everything and from my own experience I have learned that sometimes the
"great dream" (of being a writer, artist, musician, etc.) just doesn't
pay the bills and in order to make decent money one may have to go into
a field that is not originally their first choice as a means of
employment. I remember being young and wistful, with dreams of being an
artist, only to have to "settle" for an office job to make ends meet.
The movie does express what life was like for me at the time. I was a naive student with dreams of producing great artistic work, but who learned that what is taught in college as "reality" is not really reality at all. College students are fed with lofty artistic statements and philosophies and are taught to analyze endless aspects of society, ideals, etc., and are taught that "knowledge and education are power" but are not taught that credibility and respect are things which must be earned and that very few people actually start out at the top of the career ladder.
Overall, this continues to be one of my favorite films and I appreciate the myriad of messages that it sends, though they may, at times, be contradictory.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ok.. When I first saw this in the theatre upon it's initial release, I really indentified with it. Upon viewing it seven years later, I realized what a whiny, early-twentysomething I was back then. This movie is incredibly pretentious and makes my generation look like a bunch of babies with dirty diapers. Unfortunately, in the mid 90's, that's exactly how most people my age acted. We felt we deserved the world on a silver platter... and cried when it wasn't handed to us.
The characters, by 2001 standards, are all horrible mid-90's stereotypes. Hawke, Ryder and Garofolo's characters are painfully self-absorbed. Especially Hakwe's character Troy, he is supposed to be "deep" and "intellectual", but after viewing the film in 2001, his "serious slacker" persona is almost comical. Lelaina (Ryder) is upset because she can't land her dream job immediately after college. (who does?!?) Vickie (Garofolo) is basically a slut who works at the Gap. She talks about AIDS tests as being a defining point of Gen X. This never happened and makes the film seem even more dated.
I won't go too much into the story, but it's basically a love triangle between Troy (Hawke), Lelaina (Ryder) and the nice-guy yuppie Michael (Stiller). The early-mid 90's stamp is all over the story, as Stiller's successful-nice guy character is dumped for the slacker with few redeeming qualities (Hawke). In 1994 I saw Michael as square and Troy seemed pretty damned slick and cool. In 2001, I think Michael would be vacationing on the French Riviera, while Troy would be selling used cars. Amazing the difference in attitude seven years make.
Technically, the movie is well done. Stiller does a pretty good job directing and gets admirable performances from his cast. Especially the supporting actors Kurtz, Mahoney and an underused Steve Zahn. The soundtrack is excellent and holds up to the test of time much better than the film or soundtracks from similar movies. (ie. Singles)
Overall, Reality Bites is an average love-triangle story with WAY to much mid-90's Gen-X slacker sentiment. IMHO, this movie did not age well and today, it seems like a self-parody with it's "angst/slacker" theme....
Ratings: In 1994: 7/10 In 2001: 4/10
I really do have difficulty with the short shrift this film seems to get. Admittedly, Ethan Hawke's appaling "I'm nuthin'" doesn't really do the film any favours but that asides, Reality Bites always has me in tears. The basic storyline, centering on a love that both people know exist but due to circumstance and fear has not manifested is so universal, and so well done. The 'my life is falling apart' endless phone calls to the psychic 0900 number part is so tragi-comedic, and the entire movie is full of continuous great scenes. Admittedly, being a single 25 year old white male who originally saw the film a few years back, I was probably caught at the optimal time for it to have an emotional impact, but I find myself going back to it again and again. Winona has never been better, and Janeane Garofalo is stunning as the low self-esteem serial one night stander with the AIDS paranoia and over-full shag book. Also, great cameos from the Soul Asylum geezer and Evan Dando's stunning turn during the end credits add to the film. Overall a stunning film, admittedly which will probably only be appreciated by a relatively narrow demographic.
I first saw this movie when it came out in the theaters and I was a
teenager myself, and I remember feeling a just a little shortchanged
and even dirty, like I'd been manipulated in a way. I did enjoy it, but
the reasons for enjoying it do not hold up today. Watching it again has
been fun because looking at it through adult eyes, I am having fun
seeing how easy it is to spot the dated qualities and outmoded
philosophies that, as one reviewer said, were pretty much defunct by
2000, or maybe even by 1995-6.
And it's not like I was some profound kid who had all this insight how mass media sells these ideas to young people...I bought into the whole "Seattle grunge" thing lock, stock and barrel, I thought guys with stringy unwashed hair and bad attitudes were totally hot, I wore crocheted vests, mood rings, and colored sunglasses with the best of them. So me thinking that something did not ring true must have been because it is pretty obvious that this movie is in essence a failure.
1. The characters-The movie works really hard to make Troy be the better option for Leilana. For teenagers, he was totally sexy to watch on screen and totally swoon worthy, but his utterly obnoxious attitude, his rudeness to Ben Stiller's character, and his bullying just came off as unpleasant at the least, and his philosophy for not working are textbook definitions of a narcissist. Hearing some of his pseudo intellectual discussions are painful and embarrassing, because it is clear that the movie feels that young Gen X'ers embrace and admire such outlooks unequivocally and at face value. And kids were supposed to identify with this person? What an inconsiderate person, to stand up Leilana's father for the job interview and lead her to blame herself, and to embarrass women around him for being attracted to him. Any good friend and countless therapists would advise against having him as a boyfriend. The sad few seconds devoted to his dying father are not enough to redeem him or "understand" him.
Bottom line, if Ethan Hawke was supposed to make this person somewhat sympathetic, he failed, or if he truly was supposed to be this unlikable, then good work.
Leilana did come off as sympathetic and overall was well played by Winona, and her beauty is the one of the few things in this movie with true staying power. Her character does some pretty awful things, though. When her boss rudely rebuffs her video ideas, she humiliates him on air. When her friend offers her a job, she snaps at her. Instead of swallowing her pride and working at the gap for a bit, she resorts to the embarrassing "gas card" scene, which we are supposed to think is cute and rebellious. It is totally unconvincing that a "valedictorian" would ever be so irresponsible and immature, even if she had fallen on bad times.
As for the other two, they are both well acted and likable, but seem to be added on simply to achieve a gritty "90's" edge, like HIV testing and coming out to your parents. Neither subplot is developed enough to give this movie the edge it craves. Both are attractive and funny, and Vicky especially projects a friendliness, sympathy, and is cute as hell in those throwback clothes.
2. The Michael stuff really is a failure. Ben Stiller did a good job acting in this movie and came across as warm and real, but this movie is his work too. I guess a simple plot device would have been to make him more arrogant from the get-go so that he could seem like the "bad guy" but that would have been cheap. Either way, the movie does seem like it's trying to convince you that he either "betrays" Leilana or "doesn't understand her" the way Troy does, and it doesn't work. Those two had a positive chemistry and seemed to complement each other as characters. To make this a true coming of age and growing up story, Leilana should have either chosen Michael, who emphasizes growing up, taking responsibility for your actions, and change for the better, or decided to be on her own for a while to become a more mature person.
3. The biggest failure of this movie, and in my opinion, the most dangerous, is how it elevates Troy's attitude as the noble one above all, as if being narcissistic and self-involved are desirable. Being that he is the hot guy of the movie and that the other characters seem to respond so positively to him, a young teenager is left with the message that this is the "new" way to be and that Michael's responsible and kind persona are "hypocritical" or "selling out." Leaving the theater back in '94, I was enjoying myself thinking about the romance between two good looking and stylish characters, but I couldn't really get into that part as much as I should have. Since I also really wanted to be cool and up to date, I was wondering if I should be acting or living like any of these characters, living in a flat with a guy who mooches off me, sleeping around with strangers, dancing at the gas station, etc. The movies have a lot more influence on young people than one thinks.
In my gut, I felt two things: a-My parents would be horrified if I brought friends like that around and more frighteningly, b-I secretly would agree with them.
I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I enjoy it more with each viewing. It's routinely panned for reasons that I really can't comprehend. It's witty, well-acted, quickly paced. I notice that people don't talk as badly about it anymore. I think it's because "Reality Bites" will be one of the films that future generations will look back on to know a little bit about this time.
Any film striving to chart the up-to-the-minute details of
twenty-something life in 1994 was bound to feel a tad outdated the
second that 1995 had found its cultural niche. And true, 'Reality
Bites' was clearly trying so hard to be hip and with the times that
there are points when its characters can seem very distant now (there
can't be too many people today who'd consider dancing around a gas
station like an unrestrained idiot to be a fitting definition of
coolness nowadays viewers will probably be more inclined to identify
with the clerk looking on with bemusement in that scene). Nonetheless,
the uncertainties that come with entering adulthood and establishing a
steady independent life of your own in the real world will always be
relevant issues to young people no matter what the era, so any flick
that deals with them has a fair chance of striking a chord with such an
audience (being a young twenty-something myself, they're certainly hot
on my own mind). Sadly, they never amount to much more here than the
backdrop for a familiar love triangle yarn, albeit the familiar love
triangle yarn as you've never seen it before. Our lead girl still gets
torn between two guys, each from a different rung on the social ladder,
only this time round it's actually the down-to-earth businessman making
a healthy living for himself (Michael) who's an amiable mass of
benevolence, and the laid-back young musician struggling to make ends
meet (Troy) who acts like an offhand, self-righteous bully for much of
his screen time. That the film still expects our sympathies to lie in
the usual places regardless and root for Troy simply because he's the
underdog is just the slightest bit galling (let's ignore the fact that
Leliana, the lucky heroine who has the honour of choosing between them,
is something of a whiny, irresponsible brat herself). Perhaps the only
thing more fatal than choosing to go with such a wearisome and
predictable formula is using characters that don't even comfortably fit
Fortunately, 'Reality Bites' does have a number of small redeeming qualities which come along at just the right moments and may make us intermittently forget that this is all going to be part of something very hollow and routine overall. It's stylish, well-crafted and reasonably entertaining, if you can forgive the occasional patch of cringe-inducing dialogue ("I'm a non-practicing Jew" "Hey, I'm a non-practicing virgin" dear lord), and Ben Stiller adds life and flair from whichever side of the camera he's on. His debut direction feels surprisingly accomplished, panning the various scenes from a selection of imaginative angles and connecting them together very smoothly, while his character is easily the most likable and understandable of the bunch (too bad he wasn't meant to be). John Mahoney (better known for his role as Martin Crane in the popular sitcom 'Frasier') has a memorable cameo as a disgruntled TV show host, the soundtrack is filled with lots of little audio treats, and the people in the prop department have certainly provided us with plenty of interesting things to look at it's actually quite fun to watch if you keep your eye out for all the novelty memorabilia that these characters have hoarded; in addition to Michael's beloved Dr Zaius figurine, a Garfield-shaped telephone and a metal 'Charlie's Angels' lunch-box, among others, have made it to the set.
But what really hurts 'Reality Bites' in the end, other than the hackneyed storyline, is just how much depth and substance the protagonists are sorely lacking. Considering that it revolves around a recently-graduated girl determined to demonstrate that she and her friends are more than just shallow Generation X-ers, devoid of any desires that extend beyond having sex and eating pizza, it doesn't exactly do a great deal to convince us otherwise. Most of their time is seemingly devoted to nothing more ambitious than messing around and having spats with each other, while the more serious material, including a subplot which sees Leliana's best friend Vickie awaiting the results of a test for HIV, is downplayed so considerably that you never get the impression that any of them are terribly concerned. The back-stories we hear about rough childhoods of divorced or neglectful parents are equally perfunctory, and the sad fact that Troy's dad is currently dying from prostate cancer is treated very incidentally by the film as a whole - what little is made of it feels more like an emotional blackmail designed to make us feel sympathy for the pretentious Troy than an actual aspect of his character.
It gives us something good every now and then, but overall 'Reality Bites' just isn't strong or satisfying enough to qualify as a coming of age classic (don't even think about comparing it to 'the Graduate', or even 'Risky Business'). While it may go on being fondly-remembered by those who experienced it at the time, on the whole this one feels like it's been rather grounded in 1994, and left with only real claim to fame and that's that it famously beat 'Pulp Fiction' to the rights to have 'My Sharona' on its soundtrack. With hindsight, it was probably 'Pulp Fiction' who had the last laugh.
I rented this movie knowing it wasn't really a comedy but a drama about the
life of people in their early twenties in the 90's. What pushed me to rent
it was the fact that many people qualified this film as horrible, but many
other people loved this film and were talking about it like it was the most
realistic thing ever.
Let's face it. I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like to be a teenager/young adult in the 90's since I was 9 years old when this movie came out. However, I think I have a good enough judgement to tell if this movie was realistic or not based on my personal experiences.
This movie isn't specially about the 90's, it's about "becoming an adult" and all it implies. It's about a cast of characters who hesitate between forever living what they were told is a pointless life [always having fun and bumming around] and becoming like the adults that they have criticized so much in their childhood. This, by itself, is very realistic, because it's a problem that many young people face even today. The main character Lalaina represents this fact completely. She's shooting a video of her friends as they struggle to find themselves in this world that was built by baby-boomers that they can't relate to. Also, she's a very clean-cut and hard working person, yet she hangs out with her friends who are more of the "rebellious" type.
This movie tries to represent the "alternative" crowd. Each character in this movie has an "alternative" as well as a "conformist" side, which is very strange. By example, you have a female character who wears vintage clothes and lives in a typical artsy room but works at the gap. This is another side of what was mentioning earlier. As young adults, they're straying away from the whole "alternative-ness" of their teenage years. This is something I've seen among people I know as well, and that I personally dislike. I guess it's something very typical of our era as well as the 90's.
What I found unrealistic in this movie was that the characters seem a bit cliché sometimes. Sure, I've seen people like that. But the personalities in the movie are too simplified. By example, there's the guy who always is slacking around doing nothing because he feels that having a full-time job until you retire is like wasting your life. Okay, but what else? What type of person is this guy, really? Also.. Each of the characters seem to act the way they do because they come from broken homes, which isn't very realistic in my opinion... The video that the main character has made is supposed to make their viewers know her friends and herself, but we don't really get to know them by watching the entire movie.
Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable movie. I liked the atmosphere of it. It also wasn't always predictable. I gave this movie a 7 because I liked it even though I disliked some of it's aspects.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Reality Bites" is one of the more unique viewing experiences I have had recently (just watching it for the first time yesterday, ten years after its release--it was one of those movies I was always just going to get around to seeing, and incredibly this took me a decade). I say unique because, while disappointment is certainly no stranger to the American film fan, it's a rare thing indeed when that disappointment extends to a sense of betrayal, even pain.
The film starts out loaded with promise. Snarky Gen-X college buddies Lelaina (Winona Ryder), Troy (Ethan Hawke), Vickie (Janeane Garafalo) and Sammy (Steve Zahn) have just graduated, hate their jobs, and are looking for direction in the directionless mid-'90s. Lelaina has started a documentary about the four of them in hopes of finding answers that way. Then she causes a stranger she initially mistakes for a yuppy (Michael, played by director Ben Stiller) to have a car accident, which leads to a sweet and very authentic romance. The whole film feels supremely natural from the get-go. The performances and characters are solid (aside from token gay buddy Sammy, who is a complete and utter tack-on) and the attitudes capture the era as well as the clothes and music.
Then, much to my chagrin, we are betrayed by Stiller and screenwriter Helen Childress on several fronts.
First, the movie almost abruptly stops being about youth and self-discovery and turns into a tired love-triangle story with the loathesome Troy making up the other leg of the tripod with Lelaina and Michael. Sure, I get it, the two of them represent the choices in life and direction that Lelaina must face. But I don't want these characters reduced to a cheap metaphor, especially when the metaphor crowds out a theme that could have been really meaningful to anyone who was young in the '90s. We never had our "Five Easy Pieces," sadly.
Secondly, and most grievously, Lelaina and the film choose terribly wrong. They choose Troy. And in doing so, "Reality Bites" makes the same sad mistakes that its generation did. It mistakes a goatee and a lock of hair over the eye for sincerity. It prizes immaturity, ego, pretension, self-absorption, inertia and tantrums over the honesty and humility of Michael. It's almost laughable when the massively phony Troy tells Lelaina, "I'm the only real thing you have." There's nothing real about Troy. There was nothing real about the legions of self-obsessed a**holes he represented.
Because Troy is so unlikable, the movie makes the unforgivably cheap move of killing off his unseen father about ten minutes from the end. This is supposed lend this vile human being some kind of worth in our eyes, I guess, but I didn't buy it for an instant. The orphan routine comes off as just another drama-queen ploy (successful, of course) to worm his way into Lelaina's pants. What really scares and even sickens me is that female viewers probably ACTUALLY SWOONED when Hawke delivered those maudlin final lines to Ryder--falling for the seduction of the worst aspects of that era...if this were an '80s movie, choosing Troy would be the equivalent of choosing the rich, yuppy jock.
Then, the worst betrayal of all, the movie completely abandons Michael, easily the best character (certainly the best person) in the film. He's not worth an ending, you see, because he has a clean-looking haircut and doesn't play acoustic guitar. Someone please give me a stiff drink so I can forget about this ending.
I'm angry enough to give this film a 3, but I figure anything that evokes so much feeling in me, even for the wrong reasons, has to be worth at least a 5. Great performances (Ryder, Garafalo and Stiller), superb and natural direction, some nice dialogue, and an overall sense of authenticity push it to a 6. But I'm hard-pressed to go beyond that for a movie that so completely and utterly fails to "get it," and in the process loses the opportunity to be a landmark film for my generation.
If you want something that actually deals with mid-'90s ennui in an unflinching manner and offers real insight, rent 1994's other slacker opus, "Clerks."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
None of the characters in this movie are as clever as they think they
are, much of the dialog is trite and eye-roll worthy, and the one
character who's supposed to be a dumb sellout is the only one who
actually shows any depth, maturity, or compassion. Which is a shame,
because I like almost all of the actors in the film, especially Ben
Stiller and Janeane Garofalo. Good thing most of the actors went on to
make much better films.
First, let me say that the best thing to happen to Mike (Ben Stiller) is that Lelaina (Winona Ryder) left him for the slacker. Mike deserves a woman who can appreciate a man who is willing to go out on a limb for her time and again, who tells her she's beautiful even when she's dressed like Betsy Wetsy, and doesn't mind that she's a self-centered pseudo-intellectual who's still trying to find herself. Lelaina clearly isn't that person. She'd rather have a guy whose idea of honesty is insulting her at every opportunity.
Maybe Mike seems more sympathetic to me than Troy because Ben Stiller is such a likable guy, and I'm not the biggest fan of scruffy facial hair. Who knows? The bottom line is, anyone who takes her "craft" so seriously and is so irrational that she gets mad at the most honorable, self-aware, kindest person in her life (one who puts his reputation on the line to get her a big break in the field of her choice), just because the people he worked for butchered her film (although some might call the resulting montage, which basically mocks its whiny subjects, an improvement over the poorly shot mess she originally submitted), deserves to be stuck with a commitment-phobic loser with a bad attitude.
I'm a Gen-Xer, and although I remember how hard it was to find decent work in the 90s, I must say that I cannot identify with those characters who, I suppose, the filmmakers wanted us to believe are cool, intelligent, and profound. Mostly, I guess, because I don't see that they possess any of those qualities.
To be fair, this film is very dated. Maybe it seemed fresh and original in 1994. Perhaps I might have liked it had I seen it back then, when I was a self-admitted self-centered, maudlin GenXer facing tough career choices, too. But I doubt it.
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