|School's out forever...that really does bite|
Graduation is a time for both celebration and trepidation as students achieve their goal of attaining a desired degree, only to find themselves facing the uncertainty of entering the working world. Today’s students are particularly likely to experience doubts and misgivings upon leaving college behind as unemployment and underemployment continue to plague the modern workforce. While numerous films have related the difficulties of coming of age, one film perfectly captures the contradicting anxiety, hope, ambition, and hesitation that encompass the post-college experience; the 1994 Generation X dramedy Reality Bites.
The film begins as bright collegiate Lelaina Pierce gives her valedictorian speech at commencement. The story then introduces Lelaina’s close-knit group of friends; 70’s obsessed retail manager Vicky, shy Sammy, and perpetually unemployed slacker Troy as they celebrate graduation and speculate about what awaits them beyond campus walls. While her friends struggle to pay their bills, Lelaina finds herself enjoying the benefits of a steady, if unfulfilling, job as a production assistant on a tacky day-time talk show. After retaliating against her condescending boss and embarrassing him on live television, she finds herself out of a job and quickly realizes that despite her excellent GPA, she still has a lot to learn about life. In the midst of her financial woes she also finds herself at the center of a complicated love triangle as she enjoys the stability of a budding romance with corporate success, Michael, but still finds herself drawn to Troy. Through 90 minutes of job interviews, psychic phone calls, home-made documentaries, and of course Big Gulps, Lelaina learns that she is more than the sum of her college grades and that the only thing anyone needs to be by age 23 is yourself.
Despite being of and for the 90’s, Reality Bites is also a film that is relevant in our own time. Lelaina’s struggle to establish her identity beyond her home and school life mirrors the same process that recent graduates today continue to struggle through as they are faced with the realities of a limited job market, adult responsibilities, and adult relationships. The film particularly succeeds in its portrayal of Lelaina’s conflict between her college aspirations and adult realities as she develops from a haughty co-ed to an unsure, but more mature, young woman. This same conflict remains an issue for young people today, as they are bombarded with messages about what it means to be a success throughout their school years only to realize that success isn’t as easy to achieve or define as they’ve been told. While the love-story subplot is fairly predictable, it also serves as an interesting allegory for the paths in life that Lelaina is attempting to choose between; monetary success and personal fulfillment. Unfortunately, the film’s vague ending leaves the audience with significant questions regarding Lelaina’s career and overall future unanswered, and the plot without any real resolution.
|There's no problem that staring at the stars with a Big Gulp won't fix|
While the film does possess a witty and engaging script, it would not have been the success that it became without the equally engaging performances of its cast. Winona Ryder perfectly captures the combination of worldliness and inexperience that make up Lelaina and creates an authentic portrait of a girl grappling with her journey into womanhood. Ethan Hawke plays Troy with an intriguing mix of abrasive arrogance and uncertain vulnerability as he attempts to hide his feelings and convictions behind a carefree façade. Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo also turn in comically engaging performances as Lelaina’s earnest suitor and quirky best friend, and Steve Zahn does well with his unfortunately limited role as Lelaina’s friend who is attempting to come to terms with his homosexuality.
While twenty years have passed since its release, Reality Bites remains a relevant take on the timeless theme of coming of age. Its portrayal of post-grad angst in an ever complicated world is startlingly relatable for today’s grads, who continue to face the difficulties of a limited economy and changing social and sexual mores amidst their search for who they are and what they want to be. Its mix of quirky comedy and poignant drama makes this film a cutting edge crowd pleaser that has plenty of bite in the best sense of the word.
|Five bucks, a cup of coffee, and Ethan Hawke, what more do you need?|