If you look at In Defense of Baroness Schraeder as my attempt at hyperbolic character rehab, this will be basically….the opposite of that. When I think back at my relationship with Reality Bites over the years, I tended to think of it in the form the exploding brain meme, but honestly the first step is so dumb that it didn’t even deserve to be represented by a brain. Instead, it’s more of an evolution:
I should note that I come to this quintessentially Gen X film from the perspective of a Millennial. It wasn’t made for me. I’m at the age where, as a year older than Sally Albright and Bridget Jones, I’d be considered a rom-com spinster, but I don’t quite need to fork out for expensive face serums (The Ordinary all the way, baby). But I’ve returned to this film over and over, just like the – now v. v. problematic – 80s teen movies I ate up in my youth.
How do you know I’m a Millennial? Because I felt physical anxiety over how much the characters in this movie smoke. Why do you care about AIDS, Janeane Garofalo? You’re all going to die prematurely of lung cancer anyway.
Janeane Garofalo’s character of Vickie is the only likeable person in this movie, of course. I think maybe it wants us to slut-shame her? She has a notebook by her bed with a numbered list of her lover’s names. She’s scared of AIDs. But you know what? I bet Troy has no memory of where his dick has been, throwing out Renee Zellweger’s number in the morning, meanwhile Vicki tootles herself down to get checked at the free clinic when she decides she should, and if she ever gets pregnant, she’s got a handy list of names and dates. Sounds like being a sensible person, to me.
She is also the only person in the group who can hold down a job for five minutes, performing well enough at the GAP to be promoted to manager. Let’s contrast with garbage queen Lelaina. She seems to have taken an assistant job at a cheesy morning TV show for the sole purpose of getting them to air her vanity documentary about her friends, a true match of content and audience if I ever heard one. Instead of, y’know, actually assisting, she tries to get the host to get his own coffee and enacts petty revenge that makes him look like he’s admitting to pedophilia when he doesn’t want to air her navel-gazing doco. Unsurprisingly, she gets fired. And utterly spits in Vickie’s face when Vickie suggests she has an opening at the GAP. “I’m not gonna work at the Gap for Christ’s sake!”. $5 an hour seems like a lot more than the $0 an hour you currently have lined up, but okay, just diminish your friend’s job that she’s proud of then.
Walking, talking trash raccoon Lelaina then:
- Has three whole unsuccessful job interviews
- Argues with her Mum that by no means should she have to look outside the journalism field for work (ha!)
- Runs up a $400 phone bill talking to a psychic
- Turns her spite on the people gently suggesting she might try getting her shit together
- When he refuses her a loan, steals from her dad (who handed her a free car and a gas card paid for a year) to pay the bill. And for a few six-packs of Coca-Cola
Nice moral high ground there, GAP-hater.
Of course Troy, aka everyone’s boyfriend when they’re 20 and have been in the general vicinity of a shitty band or an Arts degree, is the one to comfort Lelaina in her time of feels. He’s been fired from 12 jobs! He then uses her emotional distress to try and hit on her.
Of course this dude is so narcissistic he wants to make out with someone who has the same haircut as him.
Y’all need more than smokes, coffee and conversation. You need to pay your fucking rent.
To spoil the end of a 25-year-old movie, Reality Bites essentially posits that Lelaina forces him to be a bit more stable – with heavy attribution to his Dad’s death. I mean, the proof we have is he puts on a too-big suit and acts a bit humble for five seconds, so YMMV. I’m not sure what we’re meant to think Lelaina gets out of this, but whatever it is….she deserves it. Take a swim in that toxic masculinity lake for a while honey, you know you’ve been dying to. Ever since he told you “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.”
The medium step of this evolutionary tale is to think that Michael, played by Ben Stiller (also the director of the movie, thanks) is a much more preferable boyfriend. He sure is! He does fuck up a bit in the middle getting overly-enthusiastic about Lelaina’s work and forgetting to get, y’know, her permission to use her IP, and he doesn’t mind getting in to a verbal pissing contest with Troy, but in what universe does Lelaina deserve this guy?
- They meet when she throws a lit cigarette in his car after cutting him off in traffic and laughing at him trying to do his job, which causes him to crash. THIS IS REASON ENOUGH.
- She breaks his Doctor Zaius figurine!
- She completely refuses to actually introduce him to her friends
- She asks him if he’s religious approximately 30 seconds in to their first date, and then leaves him open to attacks on his intelligence from radioactive-slime-made-sentient-Troy, even though she describes the Big Gulp as the most profound invention of her lifetime (all the essential vitamins and nutrients! If Lelaina has given up smoking in the year 2019 she’s definitely still dealing with some Type 2 Diabetes)
- She claims to Michael, who thinks her work would be a good fit for his channel, that she didn’t “want to think where it would end up” with regards to potentially commercialising her doco while she’s still making it, knowing full well she was still filming it while trying to get an airing on the morning show she was working on. Just admit you’re uncomfortable with emotional support because you’re used to being around Troy The Habitual Negger.
- Lelaina drastically over-reacts when Michael’s TV production company takes the raw material of her dire-looking dropkick documentary and makes what looks like a thoroughly-entertaining, Real-World-style reality TV show with MTV flourishes. Nonetheless, it wasn’t finalised and could have been solved with a simple discussion, but after her storming out he soon apologises and does his best to fix it.
- Too bad she’s already had a dose of Troy’s apparently very powerful peen
- I like think in a couple of years, Vickie looks up Michael in the Yellow Pages. FUNCTIONAL ADULTS UNITE.
Over the years, Reality Bites has essentially become a hate-watch about a couple of dirtbags. You can’t root for the central romance, because Lelaina shows she is incapable of growth despite theoretically being the main character, and Troy is a chronic manipulator who you can tell smells like stale cigarettes and unwashed clothes just by looking at him. They’re impossible to like, and don’t even seem to like each other that much.
In conclusion, Reality Bites is basically Wuthering Heights, if Wuthering Heights had an awesome scene with Cathy, Heathcliff and their mates getting stoned off their gourd and dancing to My Sharona in a gas station.