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'Reality': Maybe It Really Does Bite

March 10, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section.

In "Reality Bites," a university valedictorian (Winona Ryder) struggles to replace her baby boomer parents' materialistic values as she goes to work at a TV station, vacillates between her desires for a TV executive (Ben Stiller) and a laconic musician (Ethan Hawke), and chronicles her roommates' counterculture lives on video. (Rated PG-13)

So this is it? This is what kids can look forward to after years of schooling? A world of roommates, getting high, playing television trivia games, one-night stands, AIDS panic, and using toilet paper for coffee filters?

The movie offers a somewhat comic look at a very grim reality--transitioning into the work world of the 1990s. It's a place where idealism and cynicism emerge as flip sides of the same coin.

Their parents and all their friends' parents are divorced, immature or leading lives devoid of passion and urgency. The job market stinks. They'd rather just play guitar. Or date someone who plays guitar.

Even though kids are recommending this film to their friends, many were not quite prepared for the bleakness.

"It was different from most movies you see," said Erin Getzelman, 14. "It was so different, I can't describe it.

Erin said she was looking forward to growing up until she saw this movie. "It made everything seem like a tragedy. You were really high or really down."

Some of the kids already knew it is all too true. Jennifer Bammer, 13, said: "One of my friends has an older brother and she said it was kind of like what happened to him. Getting fired all the time. She said he's having a lot of troubles finding a job.

"It was kind of depressing, but it was, like, true. I liked it, but it's not one of those movies where you come out and feel good about yourself."

Her friend, 12-year-old Katie Rittenhouse, agreed. "You feel that's exactly what's going to happen to you and you don't want to face that."

Neither girl aspires to work at Burger King. Katie wants to be an architect and Jennifer, a lawyer.

"Maybe things will be better by then," I offered lamely.

"I don't know," sighed Katie. "Maybe. Maybe not. It seems like there's nothing out there."

Kevin Killackey, 12, said he wasn't depressed because he simply didn't believe college graduates would have such a hard time finding work. "The part where the guy said, 'You're overqualified for a job,' I just don't think that would happen. It was bizarre."

I'm sorry, Kevin. Most of us already know at least one Ph.D. on food stamps who is trying to land a McJob. It is bizarre.

Their friends had raved about the movie despite its grimness. Explained Erin: "Everybody tells you to go see the movie because of Ethan Hawke. . . . They were right."

The new teen idol: He's brilliant. He's poor. He has problems with intimacy. He tricks his female roommates into doing his laundry by hiding his boxer shorts among their dirty clothes. He could be a parent's nightmare.

But the kids also found some laughs in the movie: when Ben Stiller and Winona Ryder have trouble kissing and hanging onto their Big Gulps at the same time; when Ryder zones out by braiding her bangs and singing to herself; when the roommates, high on pot, start dancing in a food mart.

Some kids were bothered by the continual substance use depicted on screen.

"I don't think it's great for kids to see that," Jennifer said. "They were always smoking. That got kind of old."

Added Katie: "To celebrate, they got high. That was kind of stupid."

Katie also found the love story too unconventional to follow well. In this movie, boy has already met girl. Girl meets another boy. Original boy gets girl. "It was weird," she said.

In the end, I had only one question: After boy gets girl, how will they live?

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