Reality Bites

Pity poor Generation-X, creative, cynical, overeducated, looking for love in all the wrong places and tired of being told they're overprivileged whiners who don't know what real problems are. Ben Stiller's REALITY BITES is a Hollywood movie for them, a make-believe underground picture all about how tough it is to be young and misunderstood. Lelaina (Winona...read more

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Pity poor Generation-X, creative, cynical, overeducated, looking for love in all the wrong places and tired of being told they're overprivileged whiners who don't know what real problems are. Ben Stiller's REALITY BITES is a Hollywood movie for them, a make-believe underground picture

all about how tough it is to be young and misunderstood.

Lelaina (Winona Ryder), Troy (Ethan Hawke), Vickie (Janeane Garofalo), and Sammy (Steve Zahn) are college buddies coping miserably with having been cast out into the cold, cruel world. Lelaina, who aspires to be a filmmaker and busily tapes little vignettes about her friends' lives, and Vickie,

the plain slut who carries an oh-so-ironic Charlie's Angels lunch box as a hand bag and keeps a running tally of the men she's slept with (66 and counting), move in together, sharing expenses and experiences. Lelaina is secretly in love with Sartre-reading musician Troy, who's cool enough to be

able define "ironic" (Lelaina the aspiring journalist can't) and way too cool to get a job, but she thinks she just wants to be his friend. Poor gay Sammy, who can't be part of his friends' convoluted love lives (at least not in this man's Hollywood), fills the role usually assigned to pets: he

gives everyone someone to talk to, so they won't have to talk to themselves.

Vickie works in a Gap store, posturing smartly when Lelaina tapes her folding sweaters with a clever little plastic doohickey and sighing, "People don't know what it takes," with just the right mix of sarcasm and perverse pride. She knows she should be doing something more challenging (or more

lucrative, or both), but as long as everyone else knows she knows it, she doesn't have to make the effort. Lelaina gets an internship at "Good Morning, Grant," an annoying morning TV show, is fired for her snotty attitude and falls into instant despair, moping around the house and racking up a

huge telephone bill calling the Psychic Friends network. When she has to pay up, she concocts a clever scam involving the gas credit card her father gave her (along with a car) as a graduation present.

Meanwhile, Lelaina meets Michael (Ben Stiller), a sleek young TV executive. The two become an item, and, impressed by its totally real portrait of today's youth, he arranges to show her freeform documentary on "In Your Face TV." Of course, it has to be polished a little (into a zippy montage

called, naturally, "Reality Bites"), and Lelaina flips when she sees her childishly heartfelt video vignettes turned into slick entertainment. Lelaina realizes she must choose between selling out with Michael and living real life with Troy, and makes the traditional Hollywood choice: a life of

excitement with Troy, the bad boy who's really a sweet thing under all that attitude.

Released by Universal Pictures, REALITY BITES has all the trappings of an alternative movie, but none of the actual alternative-ness. What's it an alternative to, anyway--all those movies about young people getting married, finding jobs in plastics, and settling down in the suburbs? The movie's

naked bid to appeal to twenty-somethings is evident in everything from the decor (early dorm) to the soundtrack (Greatest Hits of College Radio, 1994) to the smugly hip dialogue--touching on the Big Gulp, The Electric Company, "My Sharona," everything Brady Bunch and all points in between--to its

overall obsession with the '70s (which seem to be in the process of being rewritten as a happy decade of innocence and opportunity); but its hipness is all on the surface. One thin layer down, the structure becomes clear; REALITY BITES is a romantic comedy revolving around a triangle that was old

when Katharine Hepburn was at her apex. A smart, pretty girl has to choose between two men: one steady, responsible, and devoted (think Ralph Bellamy in HIS GIRL FRIDAY) and one madcap and unpredictable (think Cary Grant, in pretty much anything). Winona Ryder may not be the Rosalind Russell or

Barbara Stanwyck of our day--she's too recessive and self-deprecating--but Janeane Garofalo is the Iris Adrian; she ought to be a brassy blond, but she's got the rest of the role down pat--cocked hip, no-illusions demeanor, smart remark for every occasion. It's a shame REALITY BITES plays her for

a pathetic loser--she works at The Gap, after all--and gets squarely behind the privileged Lelaina, whose problems will all be solved by her porcelain looks.

REALITY BITES is the infinitely cooler version of the youth pictures Hollywood made in the wake of EASY RIDER (1969), all those hip and happening pictures like THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT (1970) and BLESS THE BEASTS AND THE CHILDREN (1972) that just totally missed the point. REALITY BITES has much

more on the ball--in fact, it's often genuinely funny--but it's still an establishment picture pretending it's not. The greatest measure of how times have changed is that the sleek young MTV-esque youthquaker is now the safe and boring guy, the one who sold out, and it's one of the great

unexamined contradictions of REALITY BITES that everyone adores TV but affects to despise everything on it. Lelaina, Troy, Vickie, Sammy, and the various friends and acquaintances who wander through the movie are all dissed out--disaffected, disappointed, disillusioned, discontented, disgusted.

They're convinced that previous generations had all the fun and now they're stuck picking up the mess, though like everything else, they talk about it rather than actually doing anything. REALITY BITES is Richard Linklater's SLACKER (1991) without the slackness--but of course SLACKER without the

slackness isn't SLACKER at all. (Nudity, drug abuse, sexual situations, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1994
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Pity poor Generation-X, creative, cynical, overeducated, looking for love in all the wrong places and tired of being told they're overprivileged whiners who don't know what real problems are. Ben Stiller's REALITY BITES is a Hollywood movie for them, a mak… (more)

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