Ben Stiller at an anniversary screening of Reality Bites. Photo by Jonathan Hickerson.
The most amazing thing about watching Reality Bites 18 years after it was released is rediscovering what an open heart the movie has, when all anyone talked about in 1994 was the movie’s cynical young adults. But cynical characters don’t necessarily make for a pessimistic movie.
“When I look at it, there’s a certain lack of cynicism in the movie,” said Ben Stiller, who made his directorial debut with Reality Bites. “It really does wear its heart on its sleeve, and that’s what’s interesting. We really were just putting it out there.”
When I look at it, there’s a certain lack of cynicism in the movie. It really does wear its heart on its sleeve, and that’s what’s interesting. We really were just putting it out there.
Stiller was at the Egyptian Theatre on Sunday for a special “From the Collection” screening of the film, since Universal Studios struck a new print of the film that Sundance Institute has added to the Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA, a film preservation archive. Stiller and the film’s screenwriter Helen Childress, executive producer Stacey Sher, and producer Michael Shamberg talked about the film and answered the audience’s questions with New York Times “Carpetbagger” columnist Melena Ryzik moderating.
Reality Bites smartly and honestly captured what older generations thought was a lack of ambition among twentysomethings newly out of college. Those twentysomethings—at least the ones in Reality Bites played by Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, and Ben Stiller—sneered at that facile put-down, however, and the movie vibrantly depicts the struggles of their lives that their parents didn’t, or refused to, comprehend.
Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder in Reality Bites
“The film is really personal, script-wise,” Childress said at the screening. “But it’s almost like a document about the making of it. We were all together, and Stacey and I were friends, and I was living at her house for a while and we were all bouncing around.”
It’s almost impossible to believe that Childress was 20 when she started working on the script and 23 when it was produced. “That’s what gives it a certain kind of honesty,” Childress said, “and a lot of the artifice comes from the fact that I wasn’t yet a sophisticated enough writer to cover my tracks.