One of my all-time favorite movies is Reality Bites, a movie written by Helen Childress and directed by Ben Stiller. The film was released in 1994, my 25th year.
Today is my 50th year, and my love for this movie is still going strong.
Reality Bites (1994)
Written by Helen Childress
Directed by Ben Stiller
Movie of the Day
I loved Reality Bites from the first time I saw it in the theater (opening weekend). I have lost track of how many times I’ve seen Reality Bites. It is one of those movies that I often re-watch when I need to cheer up (i.e. “comfort food” movies), when I spend time with friends who love it like I do, or when I just have a Laney, Vickie, Sammy, and Troy Dyer craving.
1994. 25. My life had some look-a-like similarities to the characters in Reality Bites that year. I was renting a small apartment, smoking too much, drinking coffee way, way too late most nights, and rocking Laney’s (Winona Ryder) ’90s hair.
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 had a two-year-old daughter, and most days 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 I was overwhelming to him. I had too much energy and enthusiasm, to an embarrassing degree. He’d go on to say I loved too big, too. That I did everything too big. 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 lockdown, and how much he despised any and all of my emotions.
I’ve definitely had my share of guys like Troy (Ethan Hawke). In the years that would follow Reality Bites, I would find myself falling for the intellectual slacker, the unmotivated musician, the underemployed (or unemployed), the boys who were irresponsible, often addicted, and hopelessly attractive to me. They were full of passion, good in bed, and were the kind of boys that you could have all-night conversations with, night after night after night.
“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
They weren’t good at the real life shit though. They never had money for dinner, or for rent. They were afraid of commitment, or so into “us” 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. They needed me to fix them, to be strong for them, and to take over all the things in life they didn’t want to do.
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, and experience, I still sit here watching, at 50 now, knowing that if I was Laney I would fall for Troy, that I would choose Troy. Every single time.
I think about Lelaina now, today, on my birthday Saturday afternoon, and I still relate so much. Under skin that has lines now, and hair that grays quickly, I don’t 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 where. I look in the mirror half expecting to see a younger me, the me that still sneaks into so much of my thinking, feeling, and writing, but instead, I see this older woman who resembles my Mother, and my Grandmother.
“I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.” – Laney
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 50, and 40, and 35, and 25, and maybe even 23.
Do we ever arrive at that “somebody” we think we’ll be?
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 (Janeane Garofalo) 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/dramedies. 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 are 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.
25 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 makes me creative and make me, well…me.
And sometimes I just really want to dance around to My Sharona.
“My Sharona” by The Knack
Side note: Reality Bites is available to watch on Netflix (DVD only, US), Starz (cable and streaming), and to rent on Amazon and YouTube (US).