Reality Bites 1994 ***

Can we go back to 1994, please? I’m not suggesting there were no problems back then, but compared to 2020, the dramas that the youngsters portrayed in Ben Stiller’s comedy drama seem rather tame. They’re overloaded with pop culture, but since hardly anyone has a phone, their interaction is limited to watching MTV. There’s a general feeling of malaise captured here, but by today’s hard-scrabble standards, they’re living high on the hog.

Lelainia (Winona Ryder) is a graduate whose graduation speech ends with a shrug and the words ’I don’t know’. This blankness doesn’t set her up well for her first job, working as a on-set PA to John Mahoney’s self-absorbed tv host; it’s notable that she gripes about her job, but she’s a paid intern, if you can imagine such a thing. Her father won’t splash any cash on her development, aside for a petrol credit card that allows her to demonstrate her entrepreneurial nous by flogging gas at the local petrol station. Her choices revolve around her slacker room-mate Troy (Ethan Hawke) whose counter-cultural bravado hides his anxiety about his dad’s illness, and Michael (Stiller) a yuppie who admires her video-skills and aims to package her work as a documentary to MTV.

Stiller admirably casts himself as the weaker option, although Michael at least takes an interest in Lelainia’s work; Troy moons around and actively attempts to curtain her relationship with Michael without being willing to provide one herself; not since Pretty in Pink has a girl made such a wayward choice. Otherwise Kurt Wallinger contributes an interesting score, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Evan Dando and Renee Zellweger and others pop up for of-their-time cameos, although it’s hard to explain Lelainia’s confidence that handing her footage to MTV will result in a satisfying artistic experience.

Reality Bites is a time-capsule, supposedly unveiling a truth about the shock of graduating into the workforce, but ending up incredibly specific to the early 1990’s scene. It’s a pleasant, easy-to-watch movie, but one which will speak most strongly to those nostalgic for a past that never really existed.


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  1. The only thing that I’ve liked Stiller in was Mystery Men. Comedy is just so hit or (mainly) miss that I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not watching his stuff. I just can’t enjoy the kind of characters he tends to play.

    • Comedy = hard to explain why it works or not. He plays pretty straight here, but you’re right to think he has a type of role that seems to be his fall-back.

      • I can confirm, I have to hit the “comment” icon in my wordpress feed to see the comments. If I just come to the website, none show up, even though your little comment widget down below shows that people commented.

        • I have crack teams working through the night attempting to sort this out before the space/tune continuum is permanently damaged.

          • I KNEW you were part of a secret organization. How else could one man watch so many movies and not go insane?

            In all seriousness, I’ll check out the results this evening. Got up late this morning and its throwing eveything off…

            • What makes you think watching this many movies hasn’t made me insane?

              It may be human error on my part, you correctly pointed out that I use a number of different methods to view and comment on posts, so maybe I’m messing this up, but your help was super-valuable, thanks!

  2. I’m glad Ryder is back in form in Stranger Things these days. She really plays a terrific role in that one. Haven’t heard of this movie. But then again I’m not that familiar with comedies, so that’s probably the reason. Also I think at this point I take every year over 2020😊

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