"Reality Bites" Revisited
Let me tell you a tale of 1994, as seen through the lens of "Reality Bites," as seen from way on the other side of angsty adolescence. First, you could smoke, inside, everywhere. In restaurants, in editing bays at TV shows, in hospitals! Depression has been upgraded by technology. Back then, when you had lost your job and were lying on the couch, you had to watch whatever happened to be on your standard-definition TV and rack up bills on a land line phone. Ethan Hawke (seriously, I'm not going to use their character names, which none of us know) is a whiny, whiny baby, and not nearly as attractive as I remember him, thereby rendering Winona Ryder's attraction to him even less advisable. If I imagine he's as hot as I used to think he was, he is still a giant mistake, but the kind of mistake it's okay to make when you're 22.
I know I'm supposed to think Ben Stiller is douchey but he's clearly sweet and doing his best by Winona, and is not intimidated by the prospect of her success, unlike some greasy-haired guy I know. Speaking of which, Winona is awfully high on herself and her Camcording skills to turn her nose up at an offer from Michael's TV network for her documentary. Doesn't she know there were only, like, nine channels back then? Not a lot of opportunities for distribution, hon. After the network ruined her artistic vision— where was she during the editing process, by the way?— she could have stuck with the project and probably could have massaged it into something she'd have liked. Ahh, well, she'll figure it out later when she's done making mistakes like Ethan.
This is Ethan's declaration of, what, exactly? I don't know. "You can't navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you 'cause you know I'm the only real thing you got." Run away, gurl, he's not even close to hot enough for that mess.
With the glaring exception of the apparently unprotected sex with multiple partners, Janeane Garofalo has a decent head on her shoulders what with the holding down a job, getting promoted, and telling other people to stop acting like losers. Steve Zahn, I'm sorry but you have been brought into this script solely to fill out the sacred '90s trifecta of grungy sex symbol guy, AIDS scare, and coming-out story. Sadly, this movie doesn't give you enough. I want to know what happened with your parents! But happily, the movie is self-aware enough to make jokes about its attainment of the '90s-drama sacraments.
Janeane: "Every time I sneeze, it's like I'm four sneezes away from the hospice, and it's like it's not even happening to me. It's like I'm watching it on some crappy show like "Melrose Place" or some shit, right? And I'm the new character, I'm the HIV-AIDS character, and I live in the building and I teach everybody that it's OK to be near me, it's OK to talk to me, and then I die. And there's everybody at my funeral wearing halter tops or chokers or some shit like that."
I also wish there were more of Janeane and Winona together in this movie. Their moments—dancing in the gas station, fighting over The Gap, and making up at a diner—ring truer than most of the it. Also, their clothes are surprisingly unhideous and could be easily repurposed into hipster cuteness today. And, despite their counterculture cred, you kinda believe Winona's telling the truth when she says, "'Melrose Place' is a really good show." I can respect that.
Surprise cameos: Whole Foods, of which we knew nothing in 1994, but is referenced because the movie's set in Texas, Andy Dick seemingly sober, and David Spade playing the same character he always plays. Fun facts: Winona owes $400 to a psychic line, which would be $700 in 2013 dollars, and charges $900 to her dad's gas card, which would be $1,400 in 2013 dollars. In the end, color me surprised that I did not end up hating all these characters, and even saw the possibility of them living relatively satisfying lives. I still enjoy the soundtrack more than the movie itself (and even more now that I don't have to wrestle that effing impossible transparent tape strip of a chastity belt off a jewel case to get to it). But hold on just a second…I don't think "Stay" even plays during this movie!