Tuesday, May 15, 2018

'Reality Bites' (1994)

Based on Helen Childress's initial ideas and multiple evolving scripts, Ben Stiller's Reality Bites (1994) takes place near the end of both the twentieth century and the analog era. Released twenty-four years ago, it now looks like an entirely different realm of the senses. Only Michael Grates, the goofy Ben Stiller character, lives as if in the twenty-first century: he's the only one with a mobile phone and a lucrative job - producing "In Your Face TV." 

The actors are fun. In addition to Stiller, there's Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawk, Janeane Garofalo and Steven Zahn, among others - Generation X, the all-Anglo version.  

Certain aspects of the film give it some gravitas: Vickie Miner (Garofalo) having to get an AIDS test; Sammy Gray (Steve Zahn) coming out; Lelaina Pierce (Ryder) having to look for a job; Troy Dyer (Hawke) having no social safety net, though he's reading Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit / Being and Time (and incidentally, I read the exact same book in 1991, while working a temp job for a non-profit called AIDSTECH).
Technology. Video recording, videotapes: Lelaina is making a documentary about her Generation X friends called Reality Bites. (Blockbuster, RIP). 

Telephony. Landlines, payphones are used by everyone except Michael and his preferred cellphones, one a clunky car phone and the other a smaller Star Trek style device. Lelaina runs up a long distance bill in no time. The scarcity of wireless and digital technology allow several suspenseful plot points that would be harder to pull off in the twenty-first century.  
Coffee and beer seem to be the preferred drinks. Set mostly in Houston, not much is drawn out of the place to distinguish it from any other large American city of the early 1990s, aside from a few cowboy hats. There's a formal yellow taxi -- no Uber, no Lyft. Lelaina's Dad's gas card covers the extra food expenses. Twenty-four years later, Reality Bites still. Only in the digital age, it's all gooder, man!

Today's Rune: Breakthrough

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Stiller looks about the same. I didn't know he ever made a serious movie