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Reality Bites Some, Not Everybody

March 13, 1994|KALLE MATSO

"You know how to make someone involved with 'Reality Bites' really mad?" says Mim Udovitch in Details. "Call it a 'Generation X' movie. They hate that."

Like it or not, the makers of "Reality Bites" will have to learn to live with the perception of their film as targeted to a specific audience, whether you call them Gen X, slackers, or simply people who grew up wondering just how many spinoffs of "Happy Days" they'd see before reaching puberty.

But have twentysomething screenwriter Helen Childress and twentysomething director Ben Stiller, despite their protests, created a work that is, in fact, generation specific?

An informal poll of movie critics and entertainment writers indicates that overall, they haven't. While the only reviewers to flat-out pan the film were in the 40-60-year-old age group, many older critics found redeeming qualities in "Reality Bites." And there was some grousing among younger reviewers, too. Maybe being a curmudgeon is just a state of mind.

Didn't Get It

This group was plainly annoyed by the smug, pity-me-because-I'm-going-through-post-college-angst vibes emanating from the main characters, especially Ethan Hawke, who wins Winona Ryder's heart by being, with amazing consistency, a lazy jerk.

Gene Siskel, "Siskel & Ebert" Age 48 This movie made me so angry. (By having Ryder fall for Hawke instead of Stiller) Ben Stiller sold himself out. He sold his own character out!

Roger Ebert, "Siskel & Ebert" Age 51 The movie's youthful bias requires Stiller to be the bad guy, even though Stiller is smarter and more interesting than the Hawke character, whose number one skill is sitting scornfully on the sofa.

Kalle Matso, The Manhattan Beach Reporter Age 26 Like most people, I like very little about the Generation X mentality and I'm getting pretty tired of hearing about it. I mean, the characters played by Ryder and Hawke are not likable. They deserve each other for ruining a movie that had some great lines and cool music.

Gene Shalit, NBC News, Age: Over 45 The movie's pessimism filled me with gloom, but "Reality Bites" is likely to please the 15-to-29 audience who may recognize themselves, consider it cool, dig its rock music and believe its dialogue to be portentous when it is only pretentious.

Sorta Got It

These folks saw little to no value in the movie as an insightful peek into the world of the 90s young adult, but chose rather to judge the film's message, characters and plot, aspects even the positive reviews criticized.

Natalie Nichols, LA Reader, Age: 28 Though the romantic elements are very predictable -- who's she gonna pick, the yuppie or the slacker? -- "Reality Bites" is worth seeing, for it is often hilarious (though occasionally too arch) and has great tunes.

Caryn James, The New York Times, Age: Won't say "Reality Bites" doesn't have much bite and doesn't intend to. Like the generation it presents so appealingly, it doesn't see any point in getting all bent out of shape and overambitious. But it knows how to hang out and have a good time.

Scott White, The Manhattan Beach Reporter: Age 27 I really enjoyed "Reality Bites." I do have to admit, however, that my date and I spent the two hours directly following the movie in a coffee shop trying to convince ourselves that we bore no resemblance to the characters in the film.

Peter Travers, The Rolling Stone, Age: Won't say You may think "Reality Bites" is just a bunch of white kids sitting around whining, if so, what's your glitch? It's also pure entertainment.

Got It

These critics focused not on the end but on the means. They saw "Reality Bites" as an informative snapshot of an attitude, providing both insight and humor, and not making any judgments.

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, Age: 35 "Reality Bites" is the first Generation X movie to view its characters from the inside out, not simply as media-age confections but as intricate human beings...Yearning, hilarious, lost within their precocious self-awareness, these slackers have soul.

Margie Ingall, Sassy, Age: 27 I like that "Reality Bites" is about how people with an ironic, guarded view of the world have a hard time making themselves vulnerable.

Elizabeth Pincus, LA Weekly, Age: 36 ("Reality Bites") truly has its cake and eats it too, ragging on commercialism, product placement and "reality" television while engaging in a playful combo of these very trends.

Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times, Age: 47 Though Stiller and Childress have taken pains to be as specific to their generation as possible, they also understand that at their core these ideals versus the real world dilemmas are timeless.

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