Few things have shaped my existence more profoundly than the realization, courtesy of the 1994 film Reality Bites, that there are two kinds of women—Janeane Garofalos and Winona Ryders—and that I would never, ever be a Winona. (Other things I discovered painfully, early on, that I would never be: a Shalom Harlow, a Brad from Hey Dude, a Miss Scarlet from Clue, a Delia's model, or a Penny from Dirty Dancing. Or a Baby from Dirty Dancing, for that matter. Probably not even a Lisa.)
That's not remotely true, of course; there are a grillion different kinds of women that a person can be, if you want to do something as reductive and weird as sorting human beings into "kinds." But what I meant at the time—a meaning that would be reinforced by my subsequent decade of chubby, ungainly singledom in our waif-worshiping monoculture—was that some women are flawless and tiny-boned like porcelain nightingales, and the rest of us are lonely, caustic basket-cases in vintage dresses who make jokes all day to cover up our anxiety about having to go to the AIDS clinic. The nightingales get picked; we get settled-for.
That line of thinking fucked me up until I was about 27.
Rewatching Reality Bites in honor of its 20th birthday this week, I nearly cried when it dawned on me: I can't believe I ever thought I'd rather be Lelaina than Vickie. Not that I don't still love(/hate) Lelaina the impossible saucer-eyed night-elf, but Vickie's the only non-dickwad in this entire goddamn movie. I know you're not really supposed to identify with these characters (I hope you're not really supposed to identify with these characters), because Reality Bites is a commentary on '90s slackerism or whatever, but I identify with funny, second-fiddle, lost-at-sea Vickie and I'm pretty sure those teen-feelings have had a tangible affect on how I turned out as an adult. I be'd the Vickie I wanted to see in the world. And you're not going to trick me into wanting to be Lelaina by dangling that Ethan Hawke-shaped carrot in my face, because Troy is a petroleum-jelly-dipped turd and I make plenty of those already with my butt. Minus the petroleum.
Anyway, Vickie aside, everyone else in this movie is the fucking worst, and the worst thing about them is the stuff they say. (Oh, my bad, Sammy. You're fine too.) But oh my GOD, as a '90s teen did I ever want to sit on a fourth-hand couch in a smoke-choked apartment and have these conversations and then eventually get "picked" by an emotionally abusive band guy!!! I had never come across any better thing to want. So, in honor of Reality Bites's birthday and my long-deceased naiveté, let's take a look back at all the garbage words we thought were profound when we were 12. (Spoiler: Most of them come out of Troy.)
1. Lelaina: "I know this sounds cornball, but I'd like to somehow make a difference in people's lives."
Troy: "And I'd like to buy them all a Coke."
Hey, Troy, I get that it's part of your whole anti-consumerist schtick, and was likely the peak of wit in 1994, but do you ever say anything that isn't just a corporate slogan parroted back in a sarcastic voice?
Troy: [begins nihilistic seashell poem]
OH WAIT, NOPE, DON'T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT.
2. Troy (when Lainey's dad tries to give her a BMW): "Yeah, just think about all those starving children in Africa who don't even have cars."
Lainey's mom: "Troy, does your father give you gifts like that?"
Troy: "Well, actually, my father's dying of prostate cancer so I don't really trouble him much for gifts."
Jesus fucking Christ, Troy, could you be normal for one second? These grown-ups are just trying to have a conversation with you because their asshole daughter brought you along to family dinner for no reason (without asking, probably). They don't actually give a shit about what you think—YOU'RE A 23-YEAR-OLD UNEMPLOYED POET—they're just being nice. They have mortgages and shit. Get a grip.
3. Lelaina: "He's so cheesy I can't watch him without crackers."
This is kind of a good line if you're Bugs Bunny in 1952.
4. Vickie: "Welcome to the maxi-pad."
Sammy: "Yeah, with new dry-weave, it actually pulls moisture away from you!"
Look, Sammy, I know you hang out with Troy a lot, but it doesn't have to be like this. You can just do you.
5. Lelaina: "I finally figured out what your problem is."
Troy: "What's that—I'm not a pepper?"
Seriously, it's like a verbal tic at this point. It doesn't even make sense.
6. Lelaina: "Troy, aren't you excited?"
Troy: "I'm bursting with fruit flavor."
7. Sammy: "I don't understand why this moment has to be Memorexed."
8. Troy: "Elena. You know the punishment for premature evacuation."
What does that even MEAN!!? I see that you're doing a pun on "premature ejaculation," because it rhymes and stuff, but how does "evacuation" apply in this context? You mean evacuating the apartment? But what's the "punishment"? You just sitting there some more? Her not "getting" to hang out with you for the rest of the night? Because that was kind of the idea. Seriously, Troy, I think you have some significant style-over-substance issues you'll need to deal with if you really want to be a professional, um, whatever it is you're into. (Just a reminder: Condescending Guy Covered in Oil is not a job.)
9. Lelaina: "The most profound, important invention of my lifetime. The Big Gulp...I guess it really doesn't take much to make me happy.
Both: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah…"
Michael: "I should have stayed in college and got a degree in astronomy or something."
Lelaina: "Oh, god, I love astronomy."
Lelaina: "Yeah. I just—the math, though. It was the math that just, like, got me every time."
Michael: "I loved astronomy, too, and I got into class, and it was like, everything was three-squared times pi equals the root of pi. And I just wanted to look at the stars."
This movie's like a Shithead Manual.
10. Troy: "I am really in love with you……….PSSSSHHHHHHH!!!! Is that what you want to hear? Well, don't flatter yourself."
Okay, so clearly Lelaina should have never spoken to Troy again starting from this moment AT THE ABSOLUTE LATEST. And I'm supposed to be happy that they end up together at the end? Nobody's happy in the longterm with someone who's this much of an emotionally abusive, weird, manipulative, controlling shitbarf. Boooooooo. Or, as Troy would put it, "Easy, breezy, beautiful. Cover girl."
11. Troy: "It's all just 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 becomes a cackle. And I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt."
It's possible that I hate Troy more than any other fictional or living human. I know he's brooooooken, or whatever, and he's scaaaaaaared, and 12-year-old me is horrified/bewildered by this entire sentence, but "broken and scared" and "not being the most insufferable blowhard on earth" are not mutually exclusive.
12: Lelaina: "I'm not going to work at the Gap, for Chrissake!"
Vickie: "Shut up."
That line's not embarrassing. That line is fucking boss. VICKIE 4 LIFE.
13. Troy: [runs hand through hair]
TAKE A SHOWER, MAN. YOU LOOK LIKE A BARBECUE MOP.
14. Troy: "What happened to your normal clothes?"
Michael: "Wow!…You look like…"
Troy: "A doily."
Lainey: "I'm gonna change."
Michael: "No, don't change."
Troy: "Don't go thinking for yourself either."
Michael: "Come on. Let's go. You don't need this."
Troy: "You don't know what she needs."
Michael: "I think I know what she needs in a way that you never will."
Hey! Or maybe you could actually treat her like a human being? Nightingales R people 2!!! This is approximately the 30th time in the movie when you're like, "Oh, you should not be talking to these dicks anymore."
15. Lelaina: "They're just videotapes, right?"
Yeah, kinda, actually.
16. Lelaina: "I worked so hard on them, you know?"
Did you? I mean, did you really? Are you sure you have a solid perspective on what "worked hard" means? Because it seems like mostly you just hung out and got drunk with your friends and carried around your Memorex.
Man, there's nothing America loves more than a really pretty woman who kind of tries. That's the most sympathetic thing in the world. A really pretty girl who tried a little bit.
17. Lelaina: "I just don't understand why things just can't go back to normal at the end of the half hour like on the Brady Bunch or something."
Troy: "Well 'cause Mr. Brady died of AIDS."
I hope Troy dies of GLIB.
18. Michael: "I just feel like maybe I deserve another shot here."
Troy: "Yeah, this girl is kookoo for Cocoa Puffs."
YOU'RE JUST FUCKING WITH ME NOW, RIGHT?
FROZEN EMBRYOS > HEY, THAT'S MY BIKE.
19. Lelaina: "I win the big commitment cook-off and you just run away!!!?!"
You see, what's going on in this scene is that Lainey won the big commitment cook-off, and in response Troy has run away.
20. Troy: I'm sorry, Leleina, 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.
Lelaina: Yeah? Well, that ain't real much.
At this point in the re-watch, you realize that you are nearly a decade older than these characters, and what you're watching is a movie about children yelling nonsense at each other.
21. Troy: "What happened was that I kind of got this arcane glimpse of the universe, and the best thing I can say about that is…I don't know. I have this planet of regret sitting on my shoulders, and you have no idea how much I wish that I could go back to that morning after we made love and do everything different. But I know I can't do that, so I thought that I would come here and tell you something. And what I wanted to tell you was that I love you. And, uh, I just wanted to make sure that was clear so that there wasn't any confusion.
If these weren't attractive white people, they'd definitely have to explain how a couple of jerks who hate jobs got a free house at the end.
In case it isn't clear, I still absolutely love this movie.