“Reality Bites” came up in conversation this morning. Remember that movie, the 1994 ode to aimless postmoderns that starred Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Director Ben Stiller (and featured a memorable David Spade cameo)? It was set in Houston, which was the connection that brought it into the conversation. But we dwelt on the movie–or at least I did–for several minutes.
I was a senior in high school when “Reality Bites”came out, and the film’s soundtrack shaped the weeks surrounding my graduation in a major way (I was learning Squeeze and Juliana Hatfield; like the rest of the world I was discovering–only soon to forget–Lisa Loeb).
I saw the movie with the cast of a play I was in, a community theater production in Denver written by a woman taking a year off from Yale. Her brother was the Director. He was 16.
We were all tortured by the conflict between artistic authenticity and success that consumes “Reality Bites.” Some of us took ourselves way too seriously. We were certain, like the cast of “Waiting for Guffman,” that we were making groundbreaking art (for proof we gushed over the sole adult in the cast: “Jeff is actually in movies!”). Leaving the theater we promptly divided up into Team Troy (Hawke) and Team Michael (Stiller) and literally shouted at one another things like, “If you’re trying to make money as an artist, then you’re a fraud!”
I was on Team Michael. Troy’s intellectually superior artistic integrity came with a prickish demeanor, poor hygiene, and a raging pot habit. That wasn’t for me. Michael was shallow, sure. But he was likable. I wanted to be likable. I still do.
I wish someone had told me at the time that Teams Troy and Michael aren’t the only options.
Bonus: the German-dubbed montage near the end that features both a pay phone and a person smoking in a hospital.