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  Reality Bites Generation WrecksBuy this film here.
Year: 1994
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Ben Stiller, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Harry O'Reilly, Renée Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, Anne Meara, Afton Smith, David Spade, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Evan Dando, Karen Duffy
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating:  2 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder) gave her speech at her university graduation she was railing against rampant consumerism and the evils that the older generation had got the younger one, her one, stuck with, except that when she got to the end of it she found she had lost her final cue card and could not deliver her solution to the crowd, offering a flustered "I don't know" that received a cheer. One post-graduation celebration later and she was left in a house with her roommates with a thankless job as assistant to chat show host Grant Gubler (John Mahoney) - not where she wanted to be...

When Reality Bites was initially set loose upon an unsuspecting world in the mid-nineties, it was evident that all involved in its manufacture were hoping to capture that dreaded term, the zeitgest, and for many it was the film that summed up Generation X as it was living its life at the time; or slightly before the time, as it was observed it was already dated by the point it came out. Certainly it had its fans, but even then there were an army of naysayers who judged Ben Stiller's feature directing debut as a misstep in a career that had been promising beforehand, and watching it now it has not aged well; in fact, it looks positively dreadful.

It was easy to take down this as an example of the most facile chasing of the youth market since... well, since whatever was released immediately prior to this, but what made this less comfortable as a target was the fact that it had been written by a nineteen-year-old girl, Helen Childress, who significantly never had another script produced. So when it all comes over as clunky, embarrassing and downright infuriating, the knowledge of the writer's then-youthfulness did stop the blood boiling and left it with the excuse that yeah, it probably would seem better to you if you'd conjured it from the mind of a teenage girl. Except that Stiller for one had some years of experience in this industry.

Actually, his debut was precisely the kind of thing that his television comedy shows would have sent up mercilessly, so why couldn't he see how terrible this was when he was shooting it? From the first scene, where you wonder why Lelaina has forgotten the big ending of the speech she presumably wrote herself, to the love triangle between the square TV exec Michael (Stiller) and the hip aspiring rock singer Troy (Ethan Hawke) and our flaky heroine, all of this had a tin ear for dialogue and a grating sense of smug personality. Lelaina is planning her big break in television, and to do this she obsessively videos her friends mouthing banalities which she edits together as a show reel.

That's one thing that Reality Bites got right, the need for the new generation to express itself through technology and pop culture, so perhaps Childress was right on the money as to what we would be watching as this lot got jobs in the media and everyone's thoughts were broadcast for anyone to idly digest; what this really needed was for the internet to be widepsread, but it didn't warrant a mention in 1994. Instead, there was a steady stream of references to TV shows, pop music and drinks cartons that pass for depth, something that in better hands would be the source of a savvy wit, but here look like desperate attempts at making a connection simply by bringing them up in the glibly navel-gazing conversations the characters take part in. The main thing this captured was not so much how we all lived back then, but how annoying just about everything must have been if we had taken the time to notice.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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