The Blindspot Series – Finally getting around to Reality Bites

Taking a bite out of Reality Bites

Reality Bites

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to complete one year of the Blindspot series. This is a series of monthly posts I began last year but never followed through with. The intention is to watch a fairly popular/classic film that you should’ve watched ages ago, but have been avoiding for some reason. Then to collect your thoughts about the process; was there a reason you avoided it in the first place, did it live up to your expectations, etc. (If you need some refreshing on this film, you can download/stream it on Amazon for $2.99: Reality Bites)

The film I chose for my first installment of 2013 was Reality Bites, a 1994 rom-com directed by Ben Stiller and written by Helen Childless. The story revolves around a group of friends in their early twenties; fresh-faced American college graduates entering the real world and experiencing all the fun stuff that adults have to experience but with an early 90s grunge aesthetic. There’s a gay character, a promiscuous female, a slacker philosopher, a personal documentarian, a young televisions executive, the film has it all. And all the characters have drama and hang-ups that should make them relatable because they hate a lot of things. They hate their jobs, hate their friends, hate their parents, but without contemporary pathos because they don’t seem to hate themselves. They also have quirky, REAL PERSON character traits like, one has to get an AIDS test, another spends hundreds of dollars calling a psychic, another dude has a band, you know, things that you do. (?)

It’s just too bad that it doesn’t mean a thing. Here, watch the trailer and let me know what you think.

The real plot of Reality Bites is the “love” triangle between Lelaina, the young documentarian and Troy, the slacker philosopher whom she has been friends with since college. Troy has never slept with Lelaina or her roommate Vickie despite having multiple conquests and it just drives the two of them mad. Their sexual tension is heightened by Lelaina’s relationship with Michael, the young TV executive that Lelaina meets after THROWING HER CIGARETTE IN HIS CAR AND CAUSING A MAJOR ACCIDENT. Both are matches made in heaven, obviously. How will she choose?

The purpose of the narrative seems to imply that Lelaina and Troy are so TOTALLY OBVIOUSLY DESTINED FOR EACH OTHER for some reason, but are always on the wrong page. While she attempts to play the corporate game with her PA position on a daytime TV show, he gets fired for stealing a chocolate bar. When she rejects his advances one day after getting herself fired in an equally juvenile way, she falls into a shame spiral and he doesn’t visit her apartment for days or weeks or something, a suspicious activity considering he was squatting in her living room anyway. This is complicated by the fact that when she starts dating Michael, Troy wields his jealousy and manipulativeness over her like a hammer, while she jabs and insults the core of his humanity whenever she can. Apparently this is love because that’s what happens in movies right? Unfortunately their inevitable, tragic love is thrown a curve ball when Michael finds a way to help Lelaina achieve her DREAMS despite his representing the MAN.

(Also, time has no meaning in this movie. I can never tell if things are happening in a week or in a month or even a day. It’s strange.)

I felt like I was watching this movie at the tail-end of a bad hangover. I recall dozens of people telling me how much this movie defined their teenage-hood, how it cemented Ethan Hawke as this ineffable love interest, this this that. If anything, Lelaina and Troy ARE destined to be together but only so much that they are condescending assholes. I can’t even get angry about her lack of agency and feminism in her relationship with Troy because I honestly couldn’t care less about her character. I feel the most sympathetic for Steven Zahn’s character who we know NOTHING ABOUT other than the fact that he is gay; he has no story, not even a subplot and basically only exists to chastise Lelaina on her (horrible) life choices. Vickie is sympathetic up to a point, but also a shell.

The only relevant takeaway from Reality Bites that I can grasp is that all the negative criticism that people have said about millenials in the past few years (particularly on TV shows like Girls), the same shit can be found in Reality Bites. They’re lazy, self-centered, spoiled, surprisingly snobby, immature, unprepared to deal with reality and adulthood and you know, the film presents this as partially their parents fault. The only stories or interactions we see with parental figures are depressing and reductive, they are definitely not role models. Overall, Reality Bites is a great way-stone in the field of movies about twenty-somethings, only because it’s a great reminder that some things never change. (Like the perceptions of selfish twentysomethings.)

But maybe I’m just too old for this movie now. Maybe my opinion would be different if I had watched this in my teens. Janeane Garofalo did an AV Club interview and offers some great insight on the film and about how it represents a generation she never belonged to, or even understood while making it. Give it a read.


Next month I’m deciding which Ingmar Bergman film to watch, suggestions below please!

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