Taking a Bite Out of Hollywood

Spring is in the air, and one woman's thoughts turn to cultural myths

Judging from my behavior this spring break (didn't "go anywhere", lots of "popular culture" some anxiety about my lack of role models, survival on groceries charged to my parents' Food Emporium courtesy card), I doubtless comprise a member of the "Reality Bites" target audience. Like so many to those who surround me, I am young, bright and disenchanted without really knowing with what or why. I can't watch "Oprah" or "House of Style" without making cynical comments: wisecracks culled form my vastly broad, yet miserably shallow vocab.

And my future, my career--god knows. Luckily, my parents were away this crucial week, and I had free rein of their spacious New York apartment, and ample time now only to watch television and eat things like goat cheese but also to read back issues of all the snappy periodicals that seem to accumulate there in my absence.

While doing this, I noticed that the reviews of "Reality Bites," much like those of "Schindler's List," are more interesting than the movie itself. It's fun to see the News York critical establishment falling all over itself to react to the Hollywood film establishment falling all over itself to react to the Gen X reaction to various follies of our, and believe me it is OUR, time: MTV, lace of jobs, AIDS and what Winona's Character cutely calls "time suckage" (Which, if campus press is accurate--and how could it not be?--we all seem to have mastered). New Yorkmagazine put a little star next to its capsule review of "Reality Bites"--its customary way of denoting winners--claiming that it is "the funniest movie since "Groundhog Day," and that "for once Hollywood gets things [that is, Gen X culture: meaning a barrage of pop culture references] right..."

But does it? And what, exactly, does "getting it right" mean? Do Winona et al. really dance to the anxious, the "bemusedly nostalgic," the "clickety-click" rhythms of my generation?

No, no, no. Several of the aforementioned commentators designate "RB" a direct descendant of the much-beloved classic "St. Elmo's Fire," except they find it much more enjoyable and sophisticated. They're wrong on two counts. "Reality Bites" is not like "St. Elmo's Fire," but rather more along the lines of John Hughes movies like "The Breakfast Club." Except that Winona's lip-biting has replaced Molly's and Winona, judging from her flirtations with the Academy Awards, seems to be going place Molly never got to. Moreover, "St. Elmo's Fire" had exciting twists in its love plots, while the love plot of "Reality Bites is absolutely stock. From the moment you see Ben Stiller's Ken Olin hair and eager, money-making kind of mannerisms, you know that Winona will wind up with theother: the unshaven, moody "slacker" who can't keep a job even at a newsstand, can't graduate and sings the Violent Femmes' "Why Can't I Get Just One Fuck" when he's pissed off.

Love for this man, it turns out, will be the answer to Winona's troubles. For "Reality Bites" drags itself out of the Gen X abyss with a time-honored formula: the elfishly pretty girl with the endearing range of fashion options gets to choose between two guys who are in love with her, while her much more interesting sidekick, spouting tart tittle one-liners about her job at the Gap, tabulates the number of men she's slept with in a little book that she keeps by her bed. Being the "main" character, as signalled by her creative, spunky spirit and smooth, regular features, Winona will be meant for something more than the Gap, and she won't settle for one-night stands. Two men are in love with her, and they actually say it, Yay, Winona.

The problems is that the movie claims to summarize a new generation's romantic values, or lack of them, but rather resorts to the tricks of 50 years ago (and makes use of some more recent ones as well: check out the facial expressions in the one major sex scene). The problem is that everything intriguing or novel about "Reality Bites" is completely subsumed under this love story, one which only confirms our well-developed sense that most movies are about, and should be about, the prettiest people getting together and falling in love against the odds posed by our ugly, difficult, demanding world.

I didn't buy it. I rented movies of past generations and watched them in the spirit of bemused nostalgia touted byNew Yark's critic. I decided --if truth be told, I decided this long ago--that Winona Ryder lacks the acting range of Ingrid Bergman or Katherine Hepburn, and it upset me that a movie which purported to confront "reality" in some shape or form (even ironically,especially ironically would make a wide-eyed waif its heroine with seemingly no other justification. Then I castigated myself for maybe being jealous of her and the fact that my movie-going companion seemed to think that two hours of watching her was a perfectly fine way of spending a afternoon even if he thought the rest of the movie bit. It was all very confusing.