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Reality Bites’ 20th Anniversary: The Stars, the Quotes, the Music

Reality-bites-posterReality Bites is 20 years old.

Yes. The so-called “comedy about love in the ’90s” was released in February 1994, two whole decades ago. That was a bit of jarring math over here. I learned this a few weeks ago, and I’ve been letting it sink in — slowly, as befits a card-carrying member of Generation X. Don’t rush me as I try to come to grips with things.

Actually, we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done, Gen-Xers, so that slacker thing really did turn into a stereotype in the long run. But in 1994, fresh out of college with few clues in the world about … well, much … this movie was every confirmation that I needed that it was okay to take my time and occasionally feel overwhelmed in the process.

I had no idea what to do for a job, like Winona Ryder’s character Lelaina, although I was much more like her best friend Vickie, played by Janeane Garofalo, in temperament and appearance. I was dating my own personal Troy, which ended spectactularly badly, without even a nice guy Ben Stiller type in sight to save me. All I needed was a best friend like Sammy and I’d have been living my own personal Reality Bites experience, suburban Maryland edition.

I tried to mimic the experience by watching the movie a bunch of times, memorizing the soundtrack, and repeating my favorite quotes until I made everyone sick of them and of me. There are reports that Stiller is going to make a TV version of the show, and I’m not sure how I feel about messing with such a great thing. I loved everything about it, from the Lelaina/Vickie friendship to the unrequited Troy/Lelaina love, with a groovy ’90s soundtrack and so many great lines.

The scene where Vicki, Lelaina, Sammy, and Troy go for gas and snacks with only Lelaina’s dad’s gas station credit card goes on the list of my very favorites. My sister and I still say “We’re going…to eat gas” from time to time, which is what Vickie suggests when she sees the credit card.

They have no money. They have few prospects in any area of their lives, but they did have The Knack’s “My Sharona” on the store’s radio, and they could stop and dance. They could still have fun.

That was the trick for me and a lot of my peers back then, and twenty years later, I still love Reality Bites. I’ve watched the actors in other performances, have gone on to love other films, and certainly have things a little more figured out than I did when I was 23. But this movie reminds me after all this time that my major concerns — what I do, who I love, and who my friends are — are still pretty much the same. Reality still bites from time to time, but there’s really very little a person can’t survive with humor and and your closest people.

 Let’s take a look at the stars, quotes, and best moments from Reality Bites to celebrate its 20th anniversary:

  • Reality Bites’ 20th Anniversary Celebration 1 of 20
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  • Winona Ryder as Lelaina Pierce 2 of 20
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    Winona Ryder played Lelaina Pierce, the ultimate '90s girl — confused about love, her career, her family, and, well, pretty much everything. I related to her so much that I couldn't decide if I enjoyed it or if it made me uncomfortable. Now I know it was a little bit of both. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Stay" by Lisa Loeb 3 of 20
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    If you had a radio or any other source of music in 1994, you probably remember "Stay (I Missed You)" by Lisa Loeb, a hit that appeared on her album Tails, and on the Reality Bites soundtrack. I just listened to it for, um, research purposes, and I have to admit that hearing, "And now that I am leavin', now I know that I did something wrong, cause I missed you. Yeah, I missed you" brought back some memories. Oh, Gen-X love. Talk about reality biting. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • Janeane Garofalo as Vickie Miner 4 of 20
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    "Hey Vickie, what's your social security?" is the first question Lelaina asks Garofalo's character in the film, and like any good recent college graduate from a major university, she can spout it off at the drop of a hat. Long before she became a progressive talk radio host on Air America and rose to fame as a stand-up comic, Garofalo showed her range by playing Vickie. She was a manager at the Gap whose tough persona and bravado about her many boyfriends couldn't hide how badly she really just wanted to be loved. The scene where she was in the clinic to get her HIV results was a solid treatment of this experience in a mainstream movie. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Ben Stiller as Michael Grates 5 of 20
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    Ben Stiller directed Reality Bites and appeared as Michael Grates, the TV exec who believed in Lelaina's skills and wanted to be her boyfriend, too. What he had in drive and cool action figures, he lacked in chemistry with the girl who loved Troy in spite of herself. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • John Mahoney as Grant Gubler 6 of 20
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    John Mahoney popped up as Grant Gubler in Reality Bites before his sitcom career took off as Martin Crane on Frasier. He was perfectly ridiculous — and also really mean — as Lelaina's boss, the host of Good Morning Grant. "It's a great day! Good morning!" 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Steve Zahn as Sammy Gray 7 of 20
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    If Troy was my pretend boyfriend and I myself was a strange mix of Lelaina and Vickie, Sammy was my pretend BFF. He was also one of the first characters I remember coming out in movies, and the scene where he waits outside of his mom's house and says that he just wants to be "let back in" after he told her he was gay, is brutal. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Ethan Hawke as Troy Dyer 8 of 20
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    Ah, Troy Dyer — the ultimate slacker not-quite-boyfriend. He forever drove Lelaina crazy, but she couldn't quit him, even if neither of them could quite commit, either. Troy, like all Gen-X boys in movies and occasionally in real life, had a troubled family life, questionable career goals, and a commitment to activities like getting fired from jobs for stealing candy bars from "the man." Of course I had a tremendous crush on this character. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Swoosie Kurtz as Charlene McGregor 9 of 20
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    Swoosie Kurtz had a small role as Lelaina's mom, divorced from her plant manager dad and married to a (presumably younger) man who needs her to cut his meat. The scene where Kurtz suggests that Lelaina get a job in a fast food restaurant is painfully reminiscent of many 1990s parental conversations, I'm sure. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • David Spade’s cameo as the Weiner Schnitzel manager 10 of 20
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    David Spade was onscreen in Reality Bites for a total of perhaps three minutes, but I've quoted it for years to a usually less-than-enthralled audience. Among his gems are the information that working at the hot dog joint is a complex "juggling act" and his instruction to a young customer to "HAVE A 'TUDE, WIENER DUDE."

     

    Cameos done well are the cherry on top of some movies that use them well, and this one from Spade is high on my list. 

     

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Lelaina and Troy’s relationship 11 of 20
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    Friends for years, Lelaina and Troy reached a point where they couldn't deny their feelings for one another, but it resulted in a lot of conflict first :

    Lelaina: Welcome to the world of the emotionally mature. It's a really nice place to visit. Hey, you may run into Michael. He lives here.

    Troy: Oh, yeah, right. Michael. Michael. He's so mature, because he lets you navigate that entire relationship. Well, I'm sorry, Lelaina, but you can't navigate me. I might do mean things, and I might hurt you, and I might run away without your permission, and you might hate me forever. And I know that that scares the shit out of you, because I'm the only real thing that you have.

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Renee Zellweger as Tami 12 of 20
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    Renée Zellweger's first credited film role was Tami, one of Troy's very short-term relationships in Reality Bites. She appears in the first five minutes, and is not seen again. Zellweger has obviously gone on to much more recognizable roles. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • "Tempted" by Squeeze 13 of 20
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    If the Reality Bites soundtrack has a standout, it's Lelaina and Vickie's driving-and-singing performance of Squeeze's "Tempted." Perfect '90s tune, perfect young adulthood experience of driving around and singing with your best friend. Sigh. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Anne Meara as Louise 14 of 20
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    Stiller's real-life mother Anne Meara had a bit part in the film that was nonetheless memorable. She was the editor who famously asked Lelaina to define "irony." "It's when something's ... ironic," Lelaina said. She did not get the job. 

    Image credit: Wikimedia

  • Andy Dick as Rock 15 of 20
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    Andy Dick's bit character of Rock was another player in Lelaina's fruitless job search. Desperate for any sort of job in film, she found herself at Rock's questionable adult film company, where he said she'd be working with "tapes ... many tapes." That gig didn't work out either, which was undoubtedly for the best. 

    Image credit: Wikimedia

  • Gen-X pop culture references 16 of 20
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    The Reality Bites characters sang "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" from School House Rock and made up drinking games to correspond with Good Times episodes. Michael's "In Your Face TV" was an obvious parody of MTV. Lelaina called it: "Like MTV, but with an edge." These Houston early 20-somethings were steeped in 1970's and 1980's culture, and it was a common language and a kind of glue for their friendships. Those of us out there watching in their peer group related. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • Evan Dando as Roy 17 of 20
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    Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando popped up in the Reality Bites closing credits in a fake spat with MTV VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy. 

    Image credit: Wikimedia

  • Dave Pirner’s cameo 18 of 20
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    Soul Asylum singer and one-time Winona Ryder boyfriend Dave Pirner showed up briefly in Reality Bites as one of Vickie's short-term relationships. 

    Image credit: Wikipedia

  • "All I Want Is You" by U2 19 of 20
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    U2's "All I Want Is You" is the centerpiece of a key scene in the film. Troy has gone away to visit his dying father, and Lelaina is pining at home in her room. The song plays over a montage of their experiences, proving that emo was invented long before the turn of the 21st century. The song is gorgeous and speaks to Troy and Lelaina's deep, young, very imperfect love. Just thinking about this all these years later chokes me up a little. Well done, Ben Stiller. 

    Image credit: YouTube 

  • Karen "Duff" Duffy as Elaina 20 of 20
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    MTV VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy popped up in the Reality Bites ending credits in a parody of early reality shows, arguing with Roy, played by Evan Dando. 

    Image credit: Twitter

     

 

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