Reality Bites

Nch reality bites.jpg

October 4th, 2012
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(NCh sits down in a chair and pushes a button on her pen; she takes a few breaths before writing something)

NCh: (writing) "Dear 1994: How's it going? It's been a while, hasn't it, since... you... people that were born in you are now old enough to vote. That's trippy to me. I wanted to talk to you about one of your products. No, unfortunately, it's not one of the fun ones like (images of the following pop up as she says them) All That, The Lion King, and NAFTA..."

(Cut to a clip of Reality Bites)

NCh (vo): "...but the aimless counterculture masterpiece known as Reality Bites."

NCh: "I really, really hated it. Now, in any era, I might hate this movie or like Rent, for instance. I've always hated Rent. But I find I hate it now for different reasons than I did in... 2003, for instance, before the movie. Completely different reasons, in fact, most of which I find are very directly related to the current state of the economy. What I'm trying to say is, 1994, is that I respect that you made a movie about how being young and twentysomething in 1994 is hard. I have a hard time sympathizing with you, however, because..."

(The following phrase appears which NCh screams...)


NCh: "Shut the (beep!) up, 1994! Oh, what, you're spoiled by choice for (?) economy?! We're blaming the disinfected generation surrounded by adults, who just don't get it on Wynona Rider's inability to find a job! Not the fact that, I don't know, she's a shitty employee who got her ass fired. (mockingly) Is life hard, 1994? Are you disappointed in the Clinton administration? Oh, wait, forgive me, you're too (makes "finger quotes") 'cool' to vote. (stops to hyperventilate, then takes a deep breath before resuming more calmly) I find that 18 years later, the problems brought up in this film were a tad... what's the word... trivial. Reality Bites is a completely unironic 90-minute version of 'Threw It On the Ground'."

(A clip of the music video for The Lonely Island's "I Threw It On the Ground" is shown)

Singer: I threw it on the ground / You must think I'm a joke / I ain't gonna be part of this system!

(Cut back to the NCh)

NCh: Yes. Yes, you are. (resumes writing) "It's even more ironic because the movie can't properly define 'ironic'."

(Cut to a clip of Reality Bites)

Lelaina Pierce: (to Troy Dyer) Can you define "irony"?

Troy: It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.

NCh: "Next thing you'll be telling me, it's like rain on your wedding day. Somehow, the whiny, disaffected young people is crap, but the '80s is more relateable than you, 1994, because your problem seems to be that you're spoiled for choice. Hell, the only two characters dealing with legit problems of their day..."

(Cut to footage of Janeane Garofalo as Vicki Miner in this movie)

NCh (vo): "...Vicki, played by Janeane Garofalo, who discovers that she may have contracted HIV because of her sexually-liberated ways..."

(Cut to footage of Steve Zahn as Sammy Gray in this movie)

NCh (vo): "...and Steve Zahn, Sammy, dealing with the homophobia of his boomer parents, not only are denied very much screen time, but are also not even deigned any kind of resolution. We do find out towards the end that Janeane is not HIV-positive, but we get nothing else on whether or not she plans to, you know, change her ways or continue on her lifestyle of no-strings-attached, unprotected sex habits..."

NCh: " you, 1994." (she looks toward the camera with a disgusted expression before resuming writing)

NCh (vo): "Similarly, Sammy does come out to his parents, but will get nothing in the way of a resolution on that count. Other than he doesn't tend to date some dudes."

NCh: "But let's be honest with ourselves: the stronger, more compelling characters aren't the one that matter. The ones that we care about are the self-indulgent, horrible ones that remind us of our horrible, horrible selves. Hey, here's a subplot for you."

NCh (vo): "Halfway through the movie, when aimless valedictorian Lelaina loses her job, she uses a credit card her dad gave her to pay for gas to extort money from her parents!"

NCh: "And it's funny because, hey, stealing money from your parents is okay, right? They're just one step removed from The Man, and you know how this pays off?"

Lelaina's Dad: I just got $900 bill on my gas card.

NCh (vo): "She totally gets away with it! Because, you know, her dad..."

NCh: "...represents The Man, I guess, or something... I HATE YOU! People often ask me, what do you consider a (the following words pop up as the NCh says them:) 'strong' character, especially a (the word "female" is added to the displayed words "'strong' character") female one, but we're gonna ignore the second thing there, ("Female" is scratched out) and focus on the first part. (makes "finger quotes") 'Strong character'. I think the fallacy is focusing on what they do–" No, no, no. (scratches out what she wrote) Scratch that. (resumes writing) "It's not what they do, it's do they feel like full, rounded people, and also how their actions are framed. And that is the thing about Reality Bites and therefore, the issue I take with it. It does indeed have many full, rounded characters. I dare say all of the characters are full and rounded. But how are they (makes a square shape with her fingers) framed?"

NCh (vo): "Indeed, of the five main characters, you have three that are rounded, well-acted, and compelling: Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, and Steve Zahn. And the two main characters, who are despicable, whiny, entitled..."

NCh: (angrily scribbling on paper through clenched teeth) "...absolutely horrible, morally reprehensible people, die, die, DIE, DIE, DIE!!" (stops abruptly to catch her breath before resuming calmly) "Normally, of course, I would find no problem with presenting these types on film..."

NCh (vo): "...but about halfway through the movie, I started to get really worried about where the film was going with the horribleness of Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke, that we were meant not to root for the sympathetic yuppie played by Ben Stiller, whose greatest fault seems to be that he can't come up with sick burns as fast as Ethan Hawke can."

Michael Grates (Ben Stiller): (to Troy) You know what you are, man? You know what you remind me of? You're like that... that... that... that guy with the... you know, with the... with the hat and the bells and the... you know...

NCh (vo): "But for Ethan Hawke's Troy, who is a terrible, terrible person, to wind up with Winona Ryder, who is also a terrible, terrible person!"

Michael: Everything's so easy to laugh at! A safe distance back in Clever-Clever Land!

NCh: "Hello, young Ben Stiller! How are you? You know, one day you will star in some in some movies I really deeply hate, like (poster of...) Meet the Parents, but you will also one day direct and star in movies I really like, (posters of...) Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. I see you're developing your own screen persona quite well, young Ben Stiller, but... (gets wide-eyed) Wait, you directed this, Ben Stiller?"

NCh (vo): "Your character is reasonable, successful, kind of a dork, sympathetic."

NCh: "Really, that's the problem with you, young Ben Stiller, and I guess this is the problem with creating a realistic, third-party character in the first place. Ben Stiller plays (makes finger quotes) 'the Other Man'."

NCh (vo): "But rather than giving us a compelling reason for why Ben Stiller is the lesser of these two evils, it seems to me that Winona Ryder is just a (beep)-head who prefers abusive, bad boys over stable, nice guys."

NCh: "Also..." (smiles and wags her finger) "...poor Michael doesn't get a resolution. Did I mention Ben Stiller's character doesn't get a resolution either? He just kind of falls off the movie when..."

NCh (vo): "...Winona decides to get all weepy over this little shit-lord during act three."

NCh: "Doesn't even get the opportunity to be bitter over rejection."

NCh (vo): "He just... falls off the movie."

NCh: See ya! (resumes writing) "Oh, but Troy, he's clearly the obvious choice. He's in a band. He's really smart. He's not a crony for the Man, man. He's in a band!"

Troy: Did he dazzle you with his extensive knowledge of mineral water? Or was it his in-depth analysis of, uh, Marky Mark?

NCh (vo): "Troy relishes in his superiority towards everyone with plans, ambition, or a job, and spends most of his time lounging in an easy chair, cultivating a badass (?) and reminding everyone just how smarter he is than they."

Lelaina: Can you define "irony"?

Troy: It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.

NCh: (softly) In...cor...rect!

NCh (vo): "In fact, he develops an instant resentment towards Ben Stiller's Michael because he actually seems to respect Lelaina and makes, you know, effort, instead of wooing her in his passive, condescending, lazy gift of unequivocal specialness. Not to mention, you know, he has a job."

Troy: (answering a ringing phone) Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent.

NCh: (coughs briefly before resuming) "And we're supposed to want Lelaina and Troy to end up together because..."

Michael: (to Troy) You look beautiful, you look like... You look like...

Troy: A doily?

NCh: "Here, we see an earlier, more realistic version of the Twilight dilemma. Many people are well aware of the fact that Bella's choice is between a (a shot of Edward Cullen appears in the corner) controlling, abusive stalker (a shot of Jacob Black appears, replacing the shot of Edward) and a nice guy who... turns into a controlling, abusive stalker, albeit slightly less so, but she goes for the more controlling guy, because (scoffs) women! But the popularity of the Twilight series certainly is not that it is a cautionary tale about the fascinating tendency of some woman to go for the abusive, controlling type against their better judgment. Oh, no! The issue most people take with Twilight, most thinking people anyway, is in how it's framed; how romantic that notion is to both the author and, presumably, the reader."

NCh (vo): "Ethan Hawke's character might well be the most despicable, morally bankrupt, abusive, exploitative, narcissistic, and just plain mean person I've seen in a role that the audience is implicitly supposed to root for and sympathize with. He ranks up there with..."

(Cut to a clip of Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis' character in There Will Be Blood)

NCh (vo): "...Daniel Plainview in terms of sheer moral bankruptcy, but without the benefit of morally ambiguous framing on the part of the filmmakers or screenwriters. Troy would drink your milkshake!"

Plainview: I'd drink it up!

NCh: "And then he would justify it with some Nietzschean nihilistic bullshit or something that he learned in Philosophy 101. Oh, wait! He's too good for that! He knew that shit already and that's why he dropped out of college. So, what would a contemporary counterexample to Reality Bites look like? A movie that came out a couple years later, per se, with equally horrible characters, albeit properly framed and therefore interesting and insightful?" (stops writing) Trainspotting.

(Footage of Trainspotting is shown)

Renton: Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.

NCh (vo): "Trainspotting is engaging. Hell, there's a reason why they show Trainspotting in film history classes..."

(Cut back briefly to Reality Bites)

NCh (vo): "...while Reality Bites gets conveniently ignored."

(Cut back to Trainspotting)

NCh (vo): "The characters in Trainspotting deal with complex issues of their day, and they also do horrible things, like steal from loved ones. But here's a movie that makes no pretense about them being terrible, awful people. Not to mention, we see them suffer (beep!)ing consequences for what they do."

NCh: "While we're on the subject of framing, that's one of my major problems, again, with Rent. It isn't so much the story itself, but how it's framed. We're meant to sympathize..."

(Cut to footage of Rent)

NCh (vo): "...with the main character of Mark Cohen when he finds it unfair that the buddy in whose building they've been squatting asked that he starts paying rent to live there, where he hadn't been expected to before..."

NCh: "...their logic being that they should not have to get 'real people' jobs and pay the goddamn rent like every other (beep!)ing person in the world, because... they're artists."

(In Rent, Mark receives a recorded message from his mother)

Mark's mother: Mark, are you there. Are you screening your calls? It's Mom.

NCh (vo): "Ugh! Stop calling me, Mom! It's so lame having a loving family that I can fall back on."

(Cut back to Reality Bites, which opens with a home movie style, in which Lelaina, Troy, et al., are on the roof of a building in the city)

NCh (vo): "There's also some terrible home movie-style documentary in Reality Bites."

NCh: "What was it with you and home movie documentaries, early '90s?"

NCh (vo): "What do you think other people are going to find interesting in your aimless VHS home movies? Look at this! This isn't raw, this isn't real, this is someone playing a VHS camera that doesn't know shit about filmmaking."

Group on roof: (singing) Conjunction Junction, how's that function?

NCh (vo): "She's shooting on shitty-o, for Christ sake!"

(Cut briefly back to Rent)

NCh (vo): "Hell, at least Mark Cohen had a Super 8."

NCh: (glaring at camera) "I can't believe you're making me defend Rent, Reality Bites!"

(Cut back to Reality Bites)

NCh (vo): "We are expected to accept Lelaina as an auteur of cinema verite, Michael as a yuppie corporate seller-outer, and Troy as a rebel who sees through all phoniness, and therefore, it's okay that he's a total mooch. But what is Michael's corporate sellout crime around the midpoint? His people in New York recut Lelaina's masterpiece. And it's still bad, but it's less bad. And she's horrified that her 'art'..."

(NCh is seen angrily makes finger quotes)

NCh (vo): "...has been repurposed into corporate schlock, but personally, I fail to see it as anything but an improvement."

Lelaina: How can we repair all the damage we inherited?

Troy: I was told there'd be no math in this exam.

NCh: (angrily writing) "THIS... IS... NOT... DOCUMENTARY!!!"

NCh (vo): "Much is made of Ethan Hawke's intelligence in the film."

Lelaina: You're this guy with, like, a 180 I.Q., ten units away from a degree in philosophy.

NCh (vo): "He's implicitly lauded for failing to get his degree, and thereby bucking the system. Also..."

NCh: (smiling smugly) "...he's in a band!"

(A snippet of Troy playing guitar and singing in said band is shown)

NCh: "A really terrible, awful, awful band. A band that makes Limp Bizkit's rise to fame look downright legitimate."

(A snippet of a Limp Bizkit concert film is shown)

NCh (vo): "Like, of course 1998 saw Limp Bizkit and went, 'Oh, yeah, I gots to get me a piece of that. Look at the shit we had to deal with in 1994.'"

NCh: "Basically, what I get from the whole home-movies, documentary-without-a-cause thing of the mid '90s is the same thing I get from..."

(Cut to a video of a young woman holding up a bag from Macy's)

NCh (vo): "...people who post shopping whore videos on YouTube."

NCh: "Young people, no matter the generation, feel disaffected and are probably kind of horrible, but they desperately want validation for it. They want validation for being shitty and self-obsessed, and I guess there's nothing wrong with that."

Troy: And I sit back and I... I smoke my Camels straights. And I ride my own melt.

NCh: "The following word I am loathe to use because, here in 2012, it's ranking up there with words like (the following words pop up as she says them:) 'Epic' and 'Awesome' and 'Ermagherd', as far as words that have been overused to the point of meaninglessness, but it still might have some meaning to you, 1994, and that word is 'Privilege'. And the message I get from this movie is that being privileged sucks."

NCh (vo): "The result is a movie whining about how being privileged sucks and trying to get the audience to agree with this, and thereby relate to the horrible leads who do horrible things to other people and to each other."

NCh: "Again, the problem is not in the characters themselves, but in the framing. And it's true: being privileged does kind of suck. It sucks because it's confusing. You feel discontent, you want to whine about your discontent, but you don't know what to whine about..."

NCh (vo): " you end up making shitty movies like Reality Bites to validate your shittiness, which starts off well enough. Really, it does. The first half of Reality Bites is not that bad..."

NCh: "...but about halfway through the movie, you start to get the feeling that the resolution to this thing is going to make you really, really angry."

NCh (vo): "Your characters are abusive, self-absorbed, terrible people who use others, be they the 'love of their life'..."

(NCh is again seen making finger quotes)

NCh (vo): "...or their own (beep!)ing parents, but you frame it in such a way that they are the audience."

NCh: "I realize that this movie was not meant to show any insight. Disaffected youth hate that! But it was meant to relate to disaffected youth and make money. But, aimless, existential Gen-X-ers of 1994, with your Soundgarden and your Bill Clinton and your flannel, you are Winona and Ethan. You are them, and they are terrible, and therefore," (points at camera) "you are terrible..."

(Cut to a clip of a Simpsons episode in which Sideshow Bob keeps running into rakes, stepping on the forks so that the handles swing up and hit him in the face)

NCh (vo): "...and I am Sideshow Bob, and this movie is a yard full of rakes."

(Bob grunts in frustration as he keeps getting hit)

NCh (vo): "Why do I keep doing this to myself?!"

NCh: "That said, this movie can be enjoyable..."

(Cut to a clip of the "I Threw It On the Ground" video from earlier)

NCh (vo): "...if you just keep reminding yourself that Ethan Hawke is the 'Threw It On the Ground' guy."

Threw It On the Ground Guy: (singing) I'm an adult!

NCh: (sighs) "Or something that presents itself as counter-cultural. It stinks of incredibly corporate by pandering to its audience that apparently has these horrible, terrible worldviews rather than challenging them with a film in which the characters suffer actual consequences. In fact, the character we see suffering the worst consequence is Sammy..."

(Cut to footage of Sammy in this film)

NCh (vo): "...who I might have mentioned did nothing wrong! This is fine, of course..."

NCh: "...because that's the kind is the world we live in; being gay sucks. But I take umbrage with the fact that everyone else is fine, and yay, what consequences? Even Winona stealing from her dad is played as a joke!"

(Cut to a clip of the film where Lelaina and Troy making out with each other as he plays the guitar and sings; meanwhile, the phone rings, but goes to voicemail)

Troy's voice on phone: Please leave your name, number and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man's existential dilemmas and we'll get back to you.

(Phone beeps)

Lelaina's dad on phone: Uh, Lelaina, this is your dad.

NCh: "So corporate shill pandering to disaffected youth who want to rage against corporate shill." (finishes writing, puts down pen, looks up) Now, that, Ethan Hawke, is irony. (resumes writing again) "Love, 2012." (looks up in thought briefly) "P.S., We all really miss Bill Clinton apparently."

(Credits roll)

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