Reality Bites Turns 20 Today, Still Isn't Very Good

Generation Ecch
Generation Ecch

To begin with, I'm not referring to *that* Reality Bites, your weekly glimpse into the abyss that is (mostly) basic cable reality television. That's only 2.5 years old and just as bitingly hilarious as ever.


No, I'm talking about 1994's Reality Bites. You remember: Winona Ryder before she became Spock's mom? Ethan Hawke before he de-grunged? Janeane Garofalo? Ben Stiller? That guy from Sahara?

The movie was released on this day in 1994, and is held in high regard by many locals, probably because it's one of a very few that's recognizably set in H-Town, with Montrose, Greenway Plaza, and Tranquillity Park figuring prominently in several scenes. Unfortunately, that hometown affection has caused many to overvalue what is, at best, a mediocre film.

Before anyone accuses me of being a late hater, I saw Reality Bites in the theater. And as my date at the time (now my wife) can confirm, I really only found it intermittently enjoyable from the beginning. Reasons? Oh, I have reasons.

5. Troy Is A Fucking Asshole Hawke's career hadn't really taken off when he took the part of Troy, the elitist college dropout whose only evidence of superior intelligence is an ability to name more episodes of Gilligan's Island than anyone else. He also "sings" when he's not demonstrating his profund grasp of situational ethics by stealing from his job. Should've stuck around to get that philosophy degree.

And yet the conclusion, in which Leilana and Troy end up together in their cozy Montrose bungalow, is presented as some sort of triumph. Ladies, are you looking for someone who: a) gets pissy jealous when his non-girlfriend dates someone else; b) slinks off the morning after you finally cave in and sleep with him; and c) only comes to his senses and acts like a human being after catastrophic life events (in this case, the death of his father)? Well then, Troy Dyer's your man.

4. The Main Characters Are the Least Interesting This movie needed about 75 percent less Lelaina-Troy-Michael angst and about 150 percent more Vickie and Sammy. Maybe the "HIV scare" subplot was a little stale (shit, Walker, Texas Ranger beat them by seven years), but Garofalo sells it. And I will never not laugh at Sammy rehearsing coming out to his parents with her: "Oh ... Christ."

And this scene was pretty good, too:

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Nice try, assholes. 7-11 sold all its Houston stores in 1988.
Nice try, assholes. 7-11 sold all its Houston stores in 1988.

3. The Blank Generation Stiller conspicuously avoided any overt mention of "Generation X" in the film. Maybe he was trying to avoid confusing people who'd read Douglas Coupland's book and couldn't remember anything about Brady Bunch references, or maybe it was just because the entire planet was sick of the expression by 1994.

But for all the vanilla anti-establishment posturing and the way Stiller's character (his name is "Grates," get it?) is vilified for his sell-out job working for Big Media, the characters are depressingly apathetic. Half of their functional dialogue is repeating commercial jingles and pining for the easily palatable resolutions of 30-minute sitcoms (and Melrose Place), which is exactly the kind of shallow, media-saturated existence we were accused of leading at the time.

2. Lelaina Is Terrible at Everything Filming your friends while they rationalize indirectly giving money to Operation Rescue is fine and good, but shooting sloppy handheld stoner footage and calling it a "documentary" would make Erroll Morris spin in his grave, if he was dead. She stormed out of the In Your Face TV premiere, but she should have at least thanked Michael for making her meandering magnum opus watchable.

And for everyone describing this as a quintessential "Houston movie," how do you like the way it depicts U of H's valedictorian as not only incapable of defining "irony," but spending hundreds of dollars on a psychic hotline? She won't work at the Gap, for Christ's sake, but she'll beg her parents for money and take their (used) BMW as a graduation present.

And I hope she doesn't plan on listing Good Morning, Grant! on her resume:

1. The Soundtrack Where Cameron Crowe got Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, and the Replacements (among others), Danny Boyle got Iggy Pop, Blur, and Pulp, and Baz Luhrmann used Radiohead, Garbage, and the Butthole Surfers, Ben Stiller went a different direction. The RB soundtrack features a couple decent cuts (Dinosaur Jr.'s "Turnip Farm," "Locked Out" by Crowded House), and then two tracks from 20 years earlier ("My Sharona," "Tempted"), a Peter fucking Frampton cover ("Baby, I Love Your Way"), and Lenny Kravitz.

Oh, and this song, which rips off David Bowie's "Young Americans" so effectively it fools me into thinking it *is* the Bowie song at the beginning. Then I realize it's goddamned World Party and I'm annoyed for the rest of the day:

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