Reality Bites

Year: 1994
Director: Ben Stiller (his first directorial role)
Screenplay: Helen Childress
Starring: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller
Length: 1 hour 39 minutes
Rating: 3/5Realitybitesposter

Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her friends Troy (Ethan Hawke), Vickie (Janeane Garfalo) and Sammy (Steve Zahn) have just graduated from college (or in Troy’s case almost graduated). All are trying to work out their lives post college struggling with jobs, relationships and feeling disillusioned with the adult world, especially as they view their own parents as more dysfunctional than they are. Lelaina films all this on her VHS camera, making a documentary of her and her friends lives to encapsulate this feeling of disillusion in her generation, while caught between dating young TV producer Michael, who has the steady job and nice car, and her best friend Troy.

I was a year old when this film came out and watching it now I’m the same age as the characters in this film, making it an interesting look for me at a time I was alive in but don’t remember, and also a comparison to whether things have changed for 20 year olds in the past 20 years. Not a lot apparently. I could very easily see this film being made now and the girls wouldn’t even have to change their outfits seeing as 90’s fashion is back in. Sammy would still struggle to come out to his mum. Vickie would still find working as a manager at a clothes store a decent enough job to get by, though without ever saying so for fear of admitting she was she was betraying her ideals. Troy is very much like many males I knew at uni, scarily so in fact with his misplaced idea that his high IQ equals intelligence and his firm belief that the world is just to bourgeois for him. And Lelaina would still struggle to bring her own creative sense into the media industry (as I know from personal experience). Young people now still feel that same sense that the adults have messed up the world and left it a very commercial place with no time for intellect or creativity.
The one major difference, which I think would have made all the difference, is technology. Because now Lelaina instead of calling filming her friends a documentary, could have just become a vlogger and probably would have got pretty popular with her incredible elfin looks. As a result she would have been ridiculed if she’d called it a snapshot of a generation, as it would have been just one of many online videos depicting the lives of 20 somethings and she would hopefully, being her college’s top student, understood enough to check her privilege a bit.

Reaity Bites starts off well with the friendship of the four leads. They have exactly the right chemistry you would expect of a group of four college friends and Lelaina and Vickie’s friendship rings especially true. Lelaina’s video footage is also woven skillfully into the film, with each snippet allowing us more insight into the characters or furthering the story without having to make a full scene. There are some great moments of the characters taking pleasure in the simple thing such as when Lelaina films Vickie folding a sweater at work perfectly for the first time, ad some extremely poignant moments such as Sammy sitting outside his mum’s house just after he’s come out to her.
However towards the end of the film, the story becomes less about the friends as a group and focuses on Lelaina and Troy’s relationship, descending into the cliche. It makes it hard to tell what the film’s purpose was, whether it was to accurately present the lives of people at that time in a way that those in their 20’s watching could relate, or whether it was somewhat mocking them and the dull, stereotypical ending of the film is a lesson that all these 20 somethings really need is a good old fashioned relationship and a house (which the couple somehow manage to acquire at the end).

This movie would have been totally different if made now, due to the overwhelming impact of the internet and smartphones. So I find it interesting that I still connected with it in a lot of ways, showing that perhaps all the technology in the world can’t change the fact that 20 year olds will always be disillusioned.


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