Reality Bites (1994)

"Define irony." - Anne Meara to Winona Ryder

REALITY BITES doesn't quite add up. On the surface, this agreeable
romantic comedy seems like a landmark achievement from both director Ben
Stiller and writer Helen Childress. It's funny, it's handsome, and it
boasts a *very* appealing cast.

Touche Richard Linklater, REALITY BITES is also Hollywood's first saga
about today's disillusioned, post-college youth. A group better known as
"Generation X." Comic book forthcoming.

The film centers on Leaina Pierce (Winona Ryder), a recent Houston,
Texas grad.  Formerly the class valedictorian-- who closed her speech
with the sentence "There's no answer."-- she now works as an intern on a
morning television show. She also moonlights as an amateur filmmaker.

Her roommates are a motley crew. There's Troy (EthanHawke), a musician
who excels at lost jobs and umkempt hair. And Sammy (Steve Zahn), also
unemployed but known to bathe. And Vickie (Janane Garofalo), proud
manager of a Gap clothing store.

All living and breathing and eating together. All in the throes of
dating woes. And all being filmed for Leaina's documentary.

With its film-within-a-film subplot, REALITY BITES sounds the perfect
"verite" vehicle for an exploration of "X." Wrong!  REALITY BITES is a
completely conventional film right down to the squishy, happy Hollywood
ending.  Which is not needed in a story rich with both humor *and*

These are kids raised on sitcoms and advertising; kids who talk in
jingles and don't understand why their worlds cannot be restored at the
end of the half-hour. To which Troy can only comment "Mr. Brady died of

Who needs formula with psychology like this?

Ryder, Hawke, and the rest of the gang are tremendous appealing.  Even
if they need baths and better clothes. Ryder, in particular, is a
dynamite presence. Watch for John Mahoney, who steals a couple scenes as
a chatty TV host, and an unbilled Jeanne Tripplehorn.

With Stiller's smart direction and good gag after gag, REALITY BITES
feels fine up to a point. After about an hour of endless references to
the seventies, something doesn't just add up. These kids were infants at
that time!  How do they know so much about disco and "Good Times" and
PLANET OF THE APES?  Do reruns *really* contain that much detail?

Honestly, REALITY BITES feels like it was written by someone in their
their '30's. The cultural references just don't add up and it makes an
for an incongruity that almost pushes the film into fantasy. Is writer
Helen Childress (in her '20's) *really* taking the pulse of America's
young-adults. Or did she just find the perfect world to populate with
phony characters?

Suggested alternate title:  FANTASY BITES.

BOTTOM LINE:  Tremendously appealing, old-fashioned-disguised-as-new
romantic comedy.  Questionable cultural references may bother some.

Grade: B

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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