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Generation View Of Reality

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Generation's View of Reality

Ben Stiller's 1994 film, Reality Bites, portrays the broad based struggles of

America's twentysomethings through a lighthearted glimpse into the lives of the movie's main

characters. Four friends, recently graduated from college, find themselves over-educated and

under-employed, a theme reiterated in the lives of many Generation Xers according to critic

Marilyn Gardner. She states, "unemployment is higher for those under 25 then it is for the

workforce as a whole." (pg. 14, col. 1) Though Reality Bites bills itself as "a comedy about love

in the 90's," the film is more of a commentary on the issues facing young adults today

(Kempley, Sec. C., pg 7). The central theme concerning the lives of Generation Xers is

supported by three main motifs throughout the film: the love triangle between Lalaina Pierce

(Winona Ryder), Michael Grates (Ben Stiller), and Troy Dire (Ethan Hawke); social issues facing

the characters such as AIDS, homosexuality, and divorce; and recurring references to television,

the entertainment of choice for the "MTV Generation."

The romantic relationships between Lalaina, Michael, and Troy stage the most obvious

contrasts between Generation Xers and their nemesis: materialistic yuppies. The three

characters form a contium between the quintessential 20ish "slacker" (Troy), the white collar,

"nouveau riche" yuppie (Michael), and the quasi-slacker (Lalaina), who is somewhere in

between. Troy, Lalaina's long haired, un-shaven, grungy dressing best friend exemplifies the anti-materialistic, devil-may-care attitude of Generation X. In fact, when Vicky lets Troy move

into the girls' apartment after being fired from his twelfth job (a clerk at a news stand), Lalaina

complains that the frequently boozing, cigarette-smoking, unemployed Troy will "turn this place

into a den of slack." Though Troy is arguably one of the smartest of the bunch, he didn't have

enough credits to graduate from the university. In classic slacker fashion, Troy has the

intelligence but not the drive to succeed in a materialistic world. Rather, he thrives on the

simplistic: "you see Lanie, this is all we need, a couple smokes, a cup of coffee, and a little

conversation. You, me, and five bucks."

Conversely, Michael Grates, Lalaina's other love interest is a white collar professional

who drives a sporty Saab convertible with a cellular phone, dresses in Italian suits, and lives in

a stylish apartment. Michael is a producer for In Your Face Television, a spoof on MTV, the

channel of choice for our generation. Though Michael is young enough to be included in

Generation X, his ideals revolve around possessions as a measure of success, something no

authentic member of Generation X would tolerate.

Somewhere in the middle is Lalaina, a strange mixture of the two. She is the

valedictorian of her graduating class and is briefly employed by a television talk show as an

intern-like production assistant until she is fired. In her valedictory address, she condemns the

BMW driving older generation of her parents who have left a lack of employment and natural

resources for her and her peers. Ironically, her graduation gift from her father is a used

BMW, which she concedes to drive until she can afford an inexpensive car of her own. Lalaina's

unemployment leads her to look for jobs where she is inexperienced (working as a news

journalist) to over-qualified (flipping burgers at Burgerama), none of which are fruitful. Lalaina

then becomes a slacker herself by eating chips and chain smoking in her pajamas for hours a day.

The social issues facing the characters in the film are what differentiates Reality Bites

from other so-called generational flicks such as Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, and The

Big Chill. In one of the opening montages, Vicky (Jeanne Garafalo) is shown writing lover #66

in her little black book, the camera zooms in on her face as she struggles to remember his first

name. She later finds out that a previous partner has tested positive for the HIV virus. Thus

Vicky goes to be tested as well, and comments, rather cynically, "the free clinic AIDS test, a rite

of passage for our generation." Another one of the friends, Sammy, agonizes over how to tell his

mother he is gay. Yet another problem facing the youths is the prevalence of divorce among their

parents. Both Troy and Lalaina's parents are divorced; as critic Marilyn Gardner points out

"(Generation X) is the first to be widely affected by staggeringly high parental divorce rates."




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