Reality Bites – has it really been twenty years?


Reality Bites (1994)
Written by Helen Childress
Directed by Ben Stiller

Twenty years is a long time, and in some ways it is staggering to think that it was twenty years ago that I first saw this movie. I was in flux at the time, halfway out of a relationship and halfway in one, in that on the cusp of getting back together place that I would find myself in, over and over again, during my twenties. I was twenty-five, I had a two year old daughter, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I wrote a lot in journals, I worked at a record store, I faltered in relationships, and I had some amazing friends.

The halfway out of a relationship boy said I reminded him of Lelaina, especially in the scene in the gas station mini-mart, when Laney and her friends dance to My Sharona. He told me he always felt held back and that we were so overwhelming in energy and enthusiasm, to an embarrassing degree. I suppose I should have listened, that I should have realized that this was part of what I ended up despising, how cold and collected he seemed, how much of his emotions seemed in constant lock down.

I fell for boys like Troy. In the twenty years since Reality Bites, I would find myself falling for the intellectual slacker, the unmotivated musician, the boys who were irresponsible, often addicted, and hopelessly attractive to me. They were full of passion, great in bed, and were the kind of boys that you could have all-night conversations with, night after night after night. They were not good at the real life shit though. They never had money for dinner, or for rent. They were afraid of commitment, or so into everything so fast that they became unhealthily obsessed and jealous. Most of them were weak, not physically so, but emotionally, not one to stand by my side when things got rough, or needed to be faced. Most of them turned out to be nothing but nightmares and heartache.


And yet, even knowing that now, knowing what most Troy’s are like from first hand, and heart, experience, I still sit here watching, at 45, feeling completely that I would still fall for Troy, that I would still choose Troy, that he is still my god-damn ideal.


There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a… a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know… a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle… and I, I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt.” ~ Troy Dyer

I watch Lelaina now, in this end of Summer Saturday afternoon, the weather punishingly hot, and I still relate so much. Under skin that has lines now, and hair that grays quickly, I do not feel all that grown-up, no, so much of me still feels like that 25 year old who was confused all the time, who didn’t know what she wanted to be, or who she wanted to be with. I look in the mirror half expecting to see a younger me, the me that still sneaks into so much of my writing, but instead I see this older woman who resembles her Mother, and her Grandmother.

I’m not afraid of aging, I’m not afraid of age, but I don’t feel much like this reflection that seems to be me. I think I thought I’d really be somebody by the age of 45, and 35, and 25, and maybe even 23. Do we ever arrive at that “somebody” we think we’ll be?


I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.” ~ Lelania

Lelaina and Troy’s relationship stayed with me, and always will, as a defining kind of way to live and love. It became a flawed ideal of what I wanted out of love, and in some ways I have found it at times, maybe not with all the elements of it, of their fictional love story, but definitely the sensibility of it. When I sit back and look at it, really take it in, I know I still want a “you and me and five bucks” kind of love. I don’t know how to not want it, no matter how naive it is, or doomed.

Maybe it’s part of why I like to say Troy Dyer ruined my heart.


Vickie is more than just the stereotypical best friend character that we see all too often on film, especially in the romantic comedies and “coming-of-age” drama/dramadies. No, Vickie is more than that, she is complex, she has her own goals, her own struggles, her own insecurities, and is far more important to the story than just as a plot device to move Lelania’s story along.

I love her friendship with Lelania, and the moments we get to see this, like in the car, singing together, and at the diner, talking about life and death, and everything in-between. Their love and friendship is believable, and beautiful, and at times reminds me very much of my closest friends, and our friendships.

Watching it now it makes me miss having a best girlfriend close by, the kind you spend so much time with, live with, or might as well live with. I miss having that kind of confidante, someone to drive around with playing music loudly and singing-a-long to. A best friend to share my secrets with, go on adventures with, stay up late drinking coffee and making each other laugh.

Sometimes the worst part about growing-up is growing apart from your friends, or being long distances away from them.


Twenty years is a long time, and not so long, as well. I still feel like Lelaina, but I also feel like I’m Laney with some years behind her. I’m still a mess, but I know myself more. I still have vulnerability and tenacity, I still want to create something and be something more than my “job”, and I still am full of flaws, but maybe those flaws are part of what make me creative, and make me me.

And sometimes I just really want to dance around to My Sharona.

9 thoughts on “Reality Bites – has it really been twenty years?

  1. “They were not good at the real life shit though” isn’t that the exact truth, I almost died when I read that. So plainly said and dead on.

    This strangely reminds me of Boyhood. A friend pointed out part of the point of the movie is that we never figure out “who” we are or what we’re supposed to do, but we do something. Each year that passes I again realize that I’m still me, still the 12, 17, 22, 27-year-old I once was. I change because how can I not from experience but in there that core “me” is still me. Still feel like a teenager, still waiting for the moment a switch goes on and I’m a “real adult” but it doesn’t work that way.

    I agree with having best girlfriends. I have some dear friends, and I’m in touch with my best friend that moved away years ago but it’s not the same. Most people can be perfectly lovely but they’re more friends to hang out with now and then and do a specific planned thing with, not the type of friends that I can drive around with listening to music or open up a new album with at the kitchen table and just listen over a few beers, friends for late night coffee dates or walks, friends that will say “yes!” before I even tell them the name of the band I’m inviting them to see with me…that’s missing. I use to have it. I know too many people who think those activities are juvenile but to me it’s just living. And before I blabber on for too long as usual some of my friends are so drained after work they just want to turn off their phones & be alone in front of the TV 5 days per week and that sucks.

    1. I was reminded of Boyhood, or the feelings I had from it. When I was a kid I remember looking at my parents and their friends thinking that when I was their age I’d feel SO DIFFERENT and I’d know so much more, know myself and my life and where I was going, etc. etc. etc. Truth is, I feel nearly exactly the same with just a bit more life experience and a bit more jaded.

      And yes, I miss those late night coffee dates, spontaneous evenings where we ended up going on a drive to nowhere in particular, or seeing a gig we didn’t know so much about, or going bowling or mini-golf, or getting lost in a neighborhood just to explore. I miss hanging out on Friday nights and drinking together, playing music a bit too loud, being a bit too loud…all of it. I don’t think a relationship or family of your own ever replaces that.

      Now I’m blabbering…

      1. And seriously I’ve drafted up something sooooooo many times about the friendship stuff, that relationship, what’s missing, what’s changed but I never finish or post it. I’m always afraid that a friend will read it and it’ll hurt their feelings, even though I’m sure they only rarely look at my blog. I’m glad you wrote it though and I’m not alone.

      2. I don’t know if very many of my friends would be offended, I think they might feel the same way to some extent. Life gets in the way, and it makes me wonder if that kind of friendship ends in our twenties. I don’t know. I used to talk to my best friend every day, sometimes multiple times a day, but now I feel like we barely speak…I think Social Media hasn’t helped either – that illusion that you are “in touch” because you “like” a post or see a 140 character update. It isn’t the same.

      3. I don’t know how to respond, I keep writing and realizing it’s way too much & too much personal stuff. I may have to break this down into some blog posts. I am sorry to read about your situation with your best friend though, is it something you’ve discussed with her? I wonder she feels the same & kinda sad-for me I don’t feel it’s that I want to spend more time with certain people and we can’t because we have jobs or husbands or kids(except I don’t have last 2) thought obviously sometimes that’s a major factor, but more that we don’t connect deeply. I find that “everyone” mostly wants to watch TV or even go to a bar depending on their age when I like to do more & varied activities…I kind of feel bored by people to be honest and maybe sound cold. Too complicated for this reply, so I’ll shush. =)

      4. Yes, we have discussed and we both miss it, but distance and time and jobs and family and everything else gets in the way. I, like you, like to do varied things, too. I like to watch TV and movies, but I like to go exploring, too, out in the world. And I like situations that welcome conversation, which TV and most bars do not accommodate.

        I need to make more of an effort, too, I know it. I know that part of me misses when it was more effortless and was just part of my friends and my life – you know?

      5. It is sad-I didn’t realize she lived a little ways(or a lot of ways) away either, I missed that detail that definitely presents a problem!
        You nailed it, part of the issue is the effortlessness….I miss that too. How often do people show up unannounced anymore at the door with food and a movie or a plan? I have one friend that pops over with baked goods and she lives super close, god sustain her! And my best friend that I might’ve mentioned moved away years ago, she lives in Philly now but when she comes home to see her parents she’ll leave stuff at my doorstep if I’m not here or we can’t hang out. Last time she left a bag full of Swedish food for me and it was nice<3

        Thanks for being willing to go into this right here on your blog=)

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