Reality still bites, 20 years later

by Callie Sacarelos

I've been on a Winona Ryder kick recently, which started when I randomly watched "Heathers" last week with a friend and a glass of wine.

This week, I knew that watching "Reality Bites” would be a misuse of my time, but I justified it because I wanted to see those big, brown doe eyes that are just so full of all the feelings. Also, this movie is two decades old (it came out in February, 1994) and it was high time I saw what all the fuss was about.

What I didn't know was that it sends an absolutely horrible, clichéd message to women that nice guys will always finish last and yes, you should go for the "bad boy" because it feels so good when it stops hurting.


A quick and dirty summary of the plot *spoiler alert*:

Lelaina (Ryder) meets Michael (Ben Stiller), a nice, smart, handsome, motivated, wealthy, put-together and classic boyfriend candidate who wants to help her get her artsy documentary produced. He treats her well, clearly respects her and admires her more carefree and creative side. 

Meanwhile, there's this total waste of space, Troy (Ethan Hawke), the stereotypical shaggy-haired bad boy who's always been slumping around in Lelaina's life, but his lack of manners, consideration for others, motivation to do anything worthwhile and complete disrespect of women have prevented anything but a love/hate relationship between them.

He's the kind of guy who dreams of being in a band because he doesn't want to be a part of "the machine," but all he ever really does is sit around in an apartment he's not paying for, picking away at his guitar. If my description of Troy sounds vague and stereotypical, it's because Troy is the ultimate unambiguous slacker.

In what is possibly the only gratifying scene in the entire movie, Lelaina finally lashes out at him by saying, "All right, fine. You wanna be in a band? Fine. Go ahead. Play every night. Play three times a night! Don't just dick around the same coffee house for five years. Don't dick around with her or with me. I mean, try at something for once in your life. Do something about it, but you know what? You better do it now, and you better do it fast, because the world doesn't owe you any favors." Amen.

The fact that Troy has had four years in college to do even the smallest of gestures and show even the slightest amount of care for Lelaina is completely irrelevant to him. He waits until she meets Michael to start expressing his deranged form of love, which includes insulting her passion for film, her solid work ethic and her decision to spend time with someone who treats her well. You know what they say: If a guy treats you like crap, it's just his way of giving you attention because he secretly likes you.

Toward the end of the movie, Troy finds his way into Lelaina's bed and predictably dismisses her the morning after. The sex scene isn't romantic in any way and doesn't give the kind of satisfaction you feel when star-crossed lovers finally unite.

The movie builds up to a scene in a bar where Troy is actually playing in a band. Michael shows up to apologize to Lelaina for editing her film to fit the style of an MTV-esque TV channel (he was only trying to help). Troy immediately tells Michael that he slept with Lelaina. All drama breaks loose. In one last grand gesture to explain himself, Troy confesses, "You can't navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living [expletive] outta you 'cause you know I'm the only real thing you got."

So that's what it all comes down to in a relationship. A guy might be a total jerk, insult you on a daily basis and dip out without any warning. But you know what? He's real because feeling pain is real. Yeah, you know what else is real, Troy? Bashing your head against the wall. It makes you feel so alive.

In the final scene, after Troy runs away to go deal with his daddy issues, you get a little relief because although Lelaina is sad, she is finally free. She's about to get in a cab to go to the airport, but low and behold, Troy shows up at her front door, wearing a suit.

He probably ran out of money.