I’m sure that if you’ve been following my —ahem! — “byline” both here on my own site and over at Through The Shattered Lens in recent days, it’s become painfully obvious that I’ve been on some sort of massive “Generation X” nostalgia trip lately, but rest assured, I think I’m pretty well cured of it and am more than ready to get back to yammering on about the kind of flicks we normally talk about around here.
How can I be so sure of this, you may wonder? Well, last night I watched 1994’s Reality Bites on our local cable on-demand menu (oh, and in case you were wondering why I didn’t provide any DVD/Blu-Ray specs for either of the Before films, or why I won’t be doing so for this one, either — now you know), and if there’s one thing — and I stress it’s only one thing — this movie’s good for, it’s for readily disabusing ex-slackers of any romanticized notions of our past.
Not that nostalgia is, in and of itself, all that bad a thing —- at least in limited doses. After all, reminiscing about one’s wasted youth makes for a nice change of pace from contemplating the state of one’s wasted adulthood. But honestly — if either myself, or any of my friends, were even half as self-absorbed, shallow, preposterous, and downright annoying as anybody in this flick is, it’s amazing that no one older and wiser decided to shoot any of us dead when we were 22, because we certainly would have deserved it.
Notice I used the carefully-chosen words “anybody in this movie,” rather than calling any of them proper characters, because they aren’t — the roles written by screenwriter Helen Childress are merely disjointed stereotypical collections of bog-standard “Gen X” tropes that are about as interesting and “authentic” as a Goo-Goo Dolls or Matchbox 20 album. Consider :
Winona Ryder plays Lelaina Pierce, a recent college grad trying to get her TV pilot project off the ground, who’s torn between two “romantic” interests — guitar-strumming “soul of a poet” dreamer Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke ), and not-as-cheesy-as-he-seems-at-first cable network producer Michael Grates (Ben Stiller , who also directed this mess — and of all this film’s sins, launching this almost pathologically unfunny, untalented cretin on the road to Hollywood superstardom is perhaps its greatest). She’s joined in going nowhere fast by her kinda-sluttier-than-you’d-at-first-expect best friend/roommate Vickie Miner (Janeane Garofalo), who’s only here to sweat the results of an AIDS test, and amateur cameraman pal Sammy Gray (Steve Zahn), who’s here to check the box marked “gay character included,” and together they try to navigate their way through the early-90s social landscape of noted slacker capital Houston, Texas. Renee Zellweger turns up in an early and largely pointless part, and the genuine talents of the likes of John Mahoney, Swoosie Kurtz, and the great Joe Don Baker are completely wasted in dull-as-unbuttered-toast “parents (and other older people) just don’t understand” roles.
If it all sounds vaguely insulting and aggressively uninspired, that’s because it is. I mean, my friends and I were capable of devising some pretty insipid ways to waste time when we were that age, but having rooftop sing-a-longs of “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?” and playing Good Times-themed drinking games didn’t even cross our dying-for-something-to-keep-us-preoccupied minds.
Still, I think it’s fair to say that the most perplexing thing about Reality Bites is how completely out of touch with its own subject matter it seems. Stiller was still in his late 20s or early 30s at the time, and Childress was an “X’er” herself, yet the whole thing plays out like a movie that was made by 50(at least!)-year-olds who were trying to cobble together a story based on what they’d heard the younger (at the time, mind you) generation was like. The only thing missing is a “who would you rather fuck, Ginger or Mary Ann?” conversation.
Anyway — sure, I’m still looking forward to Before Midnight. Who in their right mind isn’t? But I think I’ve had my fill of memory lane for awhile. Frankly, even imagining that I may once have been anywhere near as unbearable as any of these spoiled troglodytes is just too depressing a prospect to spend very much time considering.