Friday, November 16, 2012

Review | Reality Bites (1994)

Hey hipsters, here's your defining romantic comedy! IRONY!!!!
Looking at the movie Reality Bites, I have noticed two things: on the poster is the tagline "A comedy about love in the 90s" and the fact there's the word 'movie poster' on it. A little bit too self-referential guys? But hey. If there's anything I could say about the film and how it defines 90s counter culture featuring graduating college students and wannabe rock stars, it's that it makes me want to hate myself and 90s culture more than the current generation stuck on MTV reality shows and pop culture that had always been mainly aimed at girls. And I am saying this from the perspective of an 18 year old guy who is willing to defend my current generation despite the number of any grievances they cause.

In Reality Bites, we see four students who graduate from college. One of them that we have to focus is Lelaina (Winona Ryder), who is a production assistant for a morning show host. She then gets fired for a certain misdemeanor she caused on-set and she is trying to find a job that suits her "skills" as a filmmaker when all we know is that she does not know how to control camera movement and the film is shot on "shitteo". (lady, the guys from the Dogme movement have put more effort in their films shot on the same camera than you would). None of which works out and she is attracted to another college graduate named Troy (Ethan Hawke), who's in a band. Aww!! If he's in a band, does it mean he'll be the hopeless romantic the film wants us to sympathise? No. Just no. All he ever will be is hopeless.  But she is caught up with Michael (Ben Stiller) who works for a TV network that is current MTV if they actually shown music videos. Michael's more sympathetic given how he's nice and caring so we would want Lelaina to fall for him instead of Troy. But no. She goes for the latter.

See how I gave out the premise? It's a mess. A hopeless mess without any romance, any bliss and any scene where cynicism cannot emerge. Reality Bites raises a few morally dubious questions about its messages about 90s youth and counter-culture.

First, there's the fact that the characters cannot find a job, particularly Leilana and how being privileged sucks and the excuses they make are just philosophical bullshit they learn from meaningless college course 201. Second, they bring the idea that women in   the world would prefer toothless assholes rather than nice guys, hence the phrase "nice guys go last". Addressing the first issue, the reason why Leilana cannot even get a job comes from two things: she cannot define "irony"* which is pathetic considering that she would barely get accepted into a career in journalism and the film's only impact will be spawning a new generation of whiny emos and whiny hipsters who would later use that word as their excuse for their disdain in society. Then there's the fact she got fired from her job. Leilana represents the kind of employee you would not even hire if she is purposely treating you like crap because she thinks you are treating her like crap. So why would you want to hire her?
I came for a job. I became an automatic failure!
The idea that being privileged sucks should be asked to the people involved in the Occupy movement who lie on their lazy asses about how the system have screwed them over and yet there is not solution. I know Leilana, that you don't want a BMW which is given generously by your parents, but given there's a small chance of you saving more money for your own car if you don't get a job in the next 2 years or so, all you can at least do is say 'yes' because they provide you everything you want, thus how you gain privilege in the first place because they are at least rewarding you of your hard work from college.

The second issue is which Reality Bites is a romantic comedy whose plot line mirrors of that of Generation Y and Z's most popular love story to date, Twilight. The two films both share a trait in which Leilana and Bella are the indecisive and mindless young woman choosing between a poorly-defined nice-guy and a man who is a jerk-off control freak. Where Bella is only manipulating the love triangle between vampire and werewolf for at least three more books, Leilana leaves Michael and Troy hanging up to 85 minutes of the film's running time. Troy has the looks of Kurt Cobain, but has the mind of Fred Durst, if he was actually more hipsterish. He's an arrogant, narcisisstic, whiny, and utterly despicable character with little redeeming qualities. Being in a band does not even suffice as a quality and having to sympathize how empty society has turn you into a cipher rather than a character. More so he's the character Stiller performed in Greenberg. Stiller's character in here, Michael is perhaps likable even though he doesn't do the neurotic schtick that he always do in every comedy. But he's too nice to actually lift the movie out of his backhanded ways. Even though at the end of the day, Michael would also be the asshole if you judge him as a privileged yuppie or that she showed Leilana's film to the networks which, to the film's credit, predicts almost 90% of content shown on current MTV as well as Australian network TV. But then again her film sucks and paints a gloomy portrait of "the real world".

And that is probably the biggest grievance of the film. It doesn't even mention any positive quality about 90s youth pandering to the people grown up in the era and how bitter and disillusioned about our lives by blaming it on the best things they'll ever have. It's not even fair to call this a "generation-defining" film because it's not easy to identify what people would have grown up with or while it's on. Movies like Clueless, Fight Club and Trainspotting all feature similar attributes where all of these scenarios occurs in the 90s and does it superior than this film. Horrible characters, the idea that being privileged sucks, but they have been given interesting and self-aware insights upon pursuing the need for acceptance and our focus on reality. So how Reality Bites is given the label is beyond me. But it may be evident that the creative force of the film thinks so. Ask Ben Stiller since this is his directorial debut (don't worry, we've seen him direct other things and that's may not his fault) or writer Helen Childress. Or even the cast.
Dream's over.
Since Reality Bites is stuck with being a rom-com rather than a film that would give a voice of the 90s youth, it's an opportunity that is clumsily avoided. Perhaps it could have been hit if they actually address the issues youth are facing in real life. And it's the white elephant in the room. How do I notice this? Well ask Janeane Garofalo, one of the other graduates a sales manager for GAP. She is testing whether or not she has AIDS. Well she isn't in the case, so her character arc lasted for only 20 minutes. Steve Zahn plays the other member and he is perhaps the most fascinating character because he comes out of the closet for Leilana and Garofalo's character Vicki. Unfortunately though he is not openly gay completely if he doesn't . Why doesn't Stiller and Childress utilize his problem? Is it because the movie is too edgy to begin with? Or maybe they're too stuck up with being cynical and letting them know they're cynical. Speaking of AIDS and HIV.... Angels in America did a better job in addressing this issue than this movie.

Romantic comedies like this breaks off any potential chemistry and Winona Ryder does not have any of it between Hawke or Stiller. Since some of the performances are vague, the soundtrack is just irritating for a 90s flick and the storyline isn't focused enough as well as boring direction from Stiller, it does nothing to bring a possible zeitgeist and already they accomplished glorifying stuck-up individualism that leaves the audience cold. That's the probably the greatest thing I could say about Reality Bites. It's the kind of film that you can be prejudiced about once they gained buzz at Sundance.

Reality Bites is a hypocritical, dishonest film that anyone could ever watch with frustrating characters and leaving no instinctive imagination on the issues facing youth, past and present. Already the movie is dated and forgettable, but this is genuinely dull.

*here's the definition of irony -

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