When I took psychology in college, my instructor told the class about a study that was conducted by a well-rounded team of psychologists. The study was to see how a person’s IQ measured up to their overall efforts to succeed in life. The study showed that, on the average, people with very high IQs tend to be less likely to succeed in life than people who were just average in intelligence. Now, you people out there who are below the 120 mark on the IQ scale, don’t be discouraged. The study showed the reason why less intelligent people were more successful was because they had far better street smarts than your average book reading nerd. And that’s no pun intended on nerds; I just find it remarkable how the world can have such a sense of balance considering how ironic it can be. One would assume that the smarter you are book-wise, the more money and power you would have in life. However, the psychologists’ study proves this not to be the case. Now I can kind of get the sense of the intelligence level of most of our moneygrubbing politicians.
“Reality Bites” is a simple, independent-style film about a love triangle, but it is also about the differences in people and their intelligence to be successful in life. At least in my opinion, that is the one thing in this movie that is very clear. The film itself tries to find some kind of foundation in either a comedy or a serious drama. It never quite finds a place to rest, and it keeps you wondering whether the film is trying to give you a sense of hope or simply complaining about how difficult life really is.
The movie comes across as a timeless story told over and over that, when you’re young, and in this case generation X, life is tough and nobody cuts you any slack. It really made me feel let down and if that’s how Ben Stiller wanted to direct and show us all how, when you’re young, life is dismal, then Stiller obviously needed to get himself a life back in 1994. Fact is, life is tough no matter what age you are. What makes it all worthwhile is that one day you wake up and find this thing called “a sense of humor” and you just laugh at the world around you. The next thing you do is begin to say the words, “I don’t care.” Of course, when you get into your mid thirties to forties, you discover Prozac and all is good with the world. In other words, kids, don’t worry about it.
Our three main characters are, first, Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder; before she was caught shoplifting), a young valedictorian graduate who is in search of her place in the world. The second main character is Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke), her highly intelligent ex-boyfriend, who is the overplayed generation X person that is smart, yet down on the world, against the man, and conforming to any social society that comes along. In other words, he’s the most prime example of a complete loser that anyone will ever see. Then, third, we have the very average Michael Grates (Ben Stiller), who is very successful in the entertainment industry yet has the intellect of a lamp post. His character does make for a couple comical scenes between Troy and himself as they argue over, whom else, Lelaina. However, there are never enough of these times to carry the film as an overall comedy.
At the start of the film, you see Lelaina giving a speech at her graduation. She basically delivers a hopeless speech and admits she has no answers to give her fellow students toward any redemption or hope in the world. I suppose this was meant to be dark humor, but the dialogue was so bland that it barely painted a picture of irony. Right from the start, I could see this film was going to take me down a dull river of generation-X blues, and how it’s all the fault of society, parents, and whatever else the script could conjure up. Problem is, I may have felt the same when I was young, but I learned a long time ago that the quality of life is better found by letting some things go.
I wasn’t wrong because all the worst things that could happen to Lelaina happen. Her ex-boyfriend, Troy, moves into her place, until he can find a place of his own. Knowing how much of a loser Troy is, you know he’s never even going to bother looking for work. The guy comes across as one of the most self-centered, egotistical, arrogant people imaginable. If it were me, I’d have thrown the guy out on the street with a can of shaving cream, a bar of soap, and a stick of deodorant. However, Lelaina is stuck with him as she and her roommates try to cope with Troy’s overpowering intellect. In all fairness, Troy is a very annoying character and Ethan Hawke genuinely pulls it off well. I actually did not like his character for what he is, intelligent but very lazy. If this is what Hawke intended to do with the character, then he did a great job of it because I honestly couldn’t stand Troy.
The next pitfall for Lelaina is that she’s fired from her job at the television studio. However, this is one funny part of the film, and had it been me, I’d have done the same thing she did. This becomes a turning point in the film as we see her struggle in the big world trying everything to find work. Here we see the sad struggle of the young as she faces countless interviews that dissipate due to lack of experience and education. It is a tough lesson that all of us go through, and I certainly do not find any joy in watching a film remind me of it. Lelaina eventually will have to take a lower-level job, but she keeps herself occupied making her own documentary films. And it is here that the real turning point happens as she meets Michael.
Michael takes an interest in Lelaina and admires her filmmaking efforts. He whisks her away on a few dates, they fall in love, and they certainly cause several jealous outbursts from Troy. As I mentioned before, the arguments between Troy and Michael are rather funny. Michael finally talks Lelaina into giving him some of her documentary shorts, but she refuses. Instead, Michael takes them anyway and has them edited and produced as a reality show. Lelaina may have been reluctant for him to take her films, but she becomes so surprised by the event that she gets excited to see what Michael, and a little bit of money, created for her.
At the unveiling party, Lelaina watches her work turned into a commercial reality project with music and colorful edits. Of course, she finds the results disturbing as an artist and completely loses any respect for what Michael has done. The entire event sends the story spiraling down into a dismal, dull depression that never seems to find its way out. It paints a picture of Michael as the bad guy, but, in my opinion, he was just trying to help her out. The guy may not have been the sharpest tack in the shed but he did have money and would have made a nice successful life for Lilaina. Nevertheless, the film goes on to expound the fact that an artist’s integrity should not be tampered with.
By the end, I found the film was hopeless in showing any positive outcome one can have in life, even if they put their ego aside for a moment. I felt Michael gave her a good opportunity, and she should have taken it, but no, she felt like Stephen King when Kubrick did “The Shinning.” The lesson here is, sometimes you do have to sell out a little, even if it does mean putting your pride away. The world is not perfect, and what it really comes down to is paying the bills at the end of the month. It’s better to take a good opportunity, even if it is one that may not settle with one’s conscious as a thing of integrity. I guess it’s kind of like the saying, “Nice guys finish last.” When you’re young, it’s best to give in and do what others want. Once you gain enough respect in playing the game, then you can do what you want. In other words, it takes time. The world is full of artists who will not give in to their integrity, and they are usually known as employees at Starbucks.
The picture is presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.85:1. The color is somewhat washed out in certain scenes, and the clarity is not the best I’ve seen on film. There are places it is very sharp and clean, yet it does tend to have grain and typical moiré effects. It’s not an awful video image by any means, just not one of the best I’ve seen.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround. Being the film is mostly drama and subtle comic sequences, there is really nothing too special to brag about when it comes to the overall audio. It has decent enough dynamics and a good balance, but it’s nothing that will impress your friends. It’s mostly center-speaker driven, with a few effects and musical moments channeling from the rears.
First of all, it’s a Universal disc, so expect forced previews. This is a Tenth anniversary DVD that is only packed with moderate extras. You get a commentary with actor Ben Stiller and writer Helen Childress, deleted scenes with an introduction from Stiller, and a retrospective, look-back documentary with all the stars. The retrospective is probably the most interesting item of the lot. It’s almost comical to sit and listen to movie stars brag about how great this film was for its time. They even go so far as to call it a cult classic! Yeah, right, maybe in Ethiopia.
There is also an interview with Lisa Loeb and a music video of the song “Stay.” Along with this you also get the usual theatrical trailers, but, as it is, everything is all on one disc so the extras are short in comparison to a two-disc set. And, personally, I can’t see where this movie would warrant having two discs.
I really can’t explain what is meant by the title, “Reality Bites.” Do they mean reality bites as in “Life Sucks”? Or maybe it is meant as a metaphor for life being tough and reality eventually biting you on the behind. As flawed as this film is in making any point, your guess is as good as mine. Apparently, the writer and director wanted me to figure this out for myself, which is fine. However, giving me some substance of hope would have helped. Overall, I just don’t feel the film should send the message that the generation-X kids, now young adults, should be given such a bland, dark and dismal message as though it were something of fact for them to look forward to in their future. In other words, it is good to have a little hope and redemption, even when you are very young.