Reality Bites Ben Stiller

A decade ago, Reality Bites, in characteristic form, accidentally, unwillingly and superficially defined a generation. But that's far from what makes it great. Writer Helen Childress — then only a fresh-faced 21-year-old — just wanted to write a screenplay about herself and her friends. Her unique and untainted worldview set up the building blocks for first-time director Ben Stiller; together they created what is essentially, and at its best, a classic coming of age love story. Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder) is a motivated college Valedictorian haphazardly searching for work after being fired from her shitty job as an assistant to a smarmy Morning talk show host. But her real passion is the documentary she's quietly compiling about her friends — Troy (Ethan Hawke), the sexy, apathetic genius; Vickie (Janeane Garafalo), the '70s-adoring, dry-witted roommate; and the sweet, shy, just out of the closet Sammy (Steve Zahn). When Michael (Stiller), the cheesy yuppie with a heart, enters the equation, Lelaina is torn; the romantic/sexual tension between she and Troy spills out when Michael presents another world to her — in career as well as in love. Naturally, Lelaina follows her heart, and tickles our naiveté. It's this romantic notion — that your most often exercised form of protest is completely apathetic; inherent, mountainous brilliance as dormant and unused; the refusal to sustain a damaging economic system by barely participating, because if you did you'd be a tremendous asset — that sends idealistic hearts aflutter. Here, Gen X is just the result of tender-hearted kids being pushed against recession and commercialisation. Their chosen reaction is inactivity, a defence that is both sincere and unapologetically lazy, but their innocence shines through so clearly it's impossible to fault them for it. Childress writes her characters with a realism only personal experience and youthfulness can provide; the cast is perfect (the notion of Gwyneth Paltrow nearly landing the part of Vickie is revolting) and Stiller's direction also benefits from a beginner's eye. In this 10th Anniversary Edition, commentary provides valuable insight; Stiller is naturally entertaining and Childress is honest and un-industry-like. The special "Retrospective" featurette is amusing and relevant. Plus: deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, more. (Universal)