Reality Bites Movie Review
Ben Stiller directs and co-stars with a plethora of big names in Reality Bites, the 1994 comedy-drama that is experiencing a "10th Anniversary Edition" on DVD. Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke have the lead roles, but are supported by a cast that includes such comedy greats as Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo. Renee Zellweger is also apparently in there somewhere.
Reality Bites is a lighthearted drama that plays as a romantic comedy without a ton of comedy. There are some laughs, but the film is much more serious than expected, though never tries to be too dramatic, either. Ryder plays Lelaina, a girl right out of university who is trying to find her place in the world. After getting fired from a potentially lucrative TV job, she falls into a relationship with the successful but somewhat bland Michael (Stiller), who can take her to financial places she has never dreamed of - but is it worth it? On the other end, there is her long time friend Troy (Hawke), who, though rather a slacker in many respects, understands her better than anyone and may even love her. Lelaina realizes that there are way too many questions to be answered, but, that's how it goes - reality bites.
The great acting is enhanced by a great screenplay by Helen Childress; all of the dialogue seems very real and down-to-earth. It is strange seeing Stiller in such a serious role - it is not that his character is serious, but he's not funny, either. He's just normal. Ryder reminds us as to why she was so popular in the 1990's, and the rest of the cast show early sparks of their blossoming careers.
Honestly, I was expecting more of a comedy than what Reality Bites actually is, but am not disappointed in the least. The film never tries to offer up anything that isn't believable, and thus the drama plays out like real life - rough but always workable.
The deleted scenes on the DVD show us that Stiller eventually cut out some even more serious scenes, including a sister of Lelaina that is struggling to get through rehab (and having to deal with a messed up family) and more analysis of the relationship between Lelaina and Troy. The deleted scenes are good but do not necessarily enhance the film, as there are already a few drawn out scenes in the theatrical version.
Other features include a commentary by Ben Stiller and some retrospective interviews with the cast.
Reality Bites is an entertaining and fun drama that has enough laughs to scrape through some slower scenes. Featuring a brilliant cast and a great screenplay, the movie is an overlooked classic of the 1990's - one that I had never heard of up until now but will recommend in the future.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.