Last night I got around to watching Reality Bites for the first time (just 23 years late). It's a terrible movie that quite possibly made it so I can never watch Gattaca again, and I love Gattaca.
My wife got it from the library because she thought it was Singles. Let me tell you, people, I know Singles. Singles was a friend of mine. And Reality Bites is no Singles. Why do I say that? Let's compare.
Both movies feature 20-somethings learning to manage in the adult world. In Singles they do it. In Reality Bites they think they do. Both movies feature a slacker musician who takes a woman for granted. In Singles Janet realizes (with the help of Cool Dr. Jameson) that she doesn't need Cliff, and this makes Cliff realize he has been taking her for granted and he starts trying to change to be a better person. In Reality Bites Ethan Hawke's character (whatever his name was) is an unmitigated asshole from start to finish. Winona Ryder's character thinks so little of herself that she doesn't mind.
Can we talk about the Ben Stiller character for a minute? What exactly is wrong with him that Ethan Hawke's character is supposed to be the one we're rooting for? The only thing wrong with Ben Stiller's character is that he's successful. But if we had to ask which character cares about Laney more, there's no way we think it's Ethan Hawke's character. He says he loves her (he only says this when it's inconvenient for her), but Ben Stiller's character is constantly doing the right thing. He's not responsible for the New York executives ruining Laney's videos, and when he realizes how much it means to her, he commits to taking her to New York to fight for her artistic integrity. He's willing to sacrifice a successful career for what matters to her. But Ethan Hawke's character isn't willing to miss an 8:30-a.m. band practice for a band that just plays at a coffee shop (and sucks) for her, and how does he feel about the videos? He's constantly belittling them, as he's constantly belittling Laney herself. He's emotionally abusive and like many abused women, Laney makes excuses for him (it's okay because his dad left him). I feel really uncomfortable with how we're expected to root against Ben Stiller's character with no explanation needed, like there must be something wrong with me if the people behind this film thought I would do that with little encouragement.
Both Laney (in Reality Bites) and Steve (in Singles) suffer professional setbacks and spend time on their couch depressed. Steve gets out of his by realizing what matters to him and going to fight for it. Laney gets out of hers by stealing $900 from her father, another guy whose major fault is being professionally successful.
The friends in Reality Bites are lame. The woman (I don't remember her character's name and don't know how to spell the actress's name and don't feel like looking up either) engages in borderline-psychotic promiscuous sex (well after AIDS is known and in the heyday of everyone telling you "sex will give you AIDS and then you'll die"), has an AIDS scare, and then, what? Is happy she tested negative. That's it. And Steve Zahn's character, given what we now know about his comedic genius, is a waste. He's just a zero-dimensional gay guy (he'd have to actually have his character developed to have at least one dimension).
Singles is from 1992. Reality Bites is from 1994. In tone, though, they are at least a generation apart. The characters from Singles are definitely from Generation X, trying to move into the adult world while frustrated by the obstacles placed in their ways by the Baby Boomers before them. The characters from Reality Bites, though, are premature Millennials, whining about how life is hard and using drugs and sex to undermine themselves, and then tells themselves, "It's all somebody else's fault." This is the worst movie I have seen in years and now I have to watch Singles next weekend to try to forget this terrible event ever happened.