Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Bites Sized Review

Given the sheer number of people I like who were involved in the 1994 film Reality Bites, it's kind of a wonder I'd never seen it until recently. And it's probably a shame I didn't see it years ago, as it feels like a film very much of that time.

Reality Bites is a loosely plotted movie exploring one general theme: the uncertainty that young people have as they enter "the real world" for the first time. That's a fairly universal theme -- yet the way each generation feels about it definitely changes. And I must confess, so does the ability of an aging adult (sniff, me) to directly relate. I'd like to think that even 20 years ago, I would have found the characters of this movie off-putting and obnoxious... but it's possible that I've taken too many steps toward shaking my fist from my front porch rocking chair. For whatever reason, I found the movie only intermittently funny.

But it does boast an impressive cast. The core is Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, and Steve Zahn -- all of whom I've liked in other movies, and all of whom find good moments here. There are also fun turns from Ben Stiller, Swoozie Kurtz, and John Mahoney. (Plus, blink and you'll miss it: a before-she-was-famous Renne Zellweger breezing by.) I'm not sure I believe the romantic relationships between some of the characters, but I attribute that more to the script embracing the very slacker virtues it's preaching. When it comes to the friendships and confrontations in the film, things pop much more strongly, and the actors all do good work.

Before watching the movie, I wasn't aware that it was actually the first feature film directed by Ben Stiller. That may seem a bit odd, given the goofier films he followed with over the next two decades. But then, the moments that land best here are the broadly funny ones, and the clever turns of phrase. Then, as now, Stiller understands the timing of a joke.

Overall, though, I wish Reality Bites had been a little more... something. More profound, or more emotional. Or just plain funnier. Like its characters, it too often seemed content to just sort of sit there and waste its potential. I give it a C-.

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