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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Reality Bites: 10th Anniversary Edition (1994)

"There's no point to any of this. It's all just a... 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, I sit back and I smoke my Camel straights and I ride my own melt."
- Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: July 27, 2004

Stars: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller
Other Stars: Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, David Spade, Andy Dick
Director: Ben Stiller

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language, drug content, and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:38m:19s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 025192382727
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- BA-B+ B+

DVD Review

Wannabe rocker Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) walks back to the stage in the midst of a nasty argument with his best friend and possible love Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder). He was trying to explain his reasons for bolting that morning from her bed, and still wants them to be together. Sadly, Troy makes possibly the most insulting musical choice and sings Kiss Off by the Violent Femmes, which sends Lelaina scrambling for the exit. This remarkably stupid act from the arrogant jerk appears to end their brief relationship, but following the tradition of romantic comedies, you can easily predict their final destination.

This moment signifies the difficulties of Reality Bites, which attempts to present realistic characters but often falls prey to genre conventions. It contains a decent collection of entertaining moments and pop-culture references, but the overall story falls flat and never really grabs your attention. The story's protagonist is Ryder's Lelaina, who graduates as the valedictorian of her college and appears destined for greatness. She works as the assistant to an obnoxious morning talk-show host (John Mahoney), but things quickly fall apart for the ambitious girl. Her real attention is focused on a documentary she's creating about her friends, which appears extremely amateurish. Ryder is obviously charming, but there are several problems with this character. First of all, it seems nearly impossible that a college valedictorian would have no idea how to define the word "irony" and couldn't add 85 and 45. Also, her relationships with her supposed "best friends" never seem believable and are designed more for screenplay purposes. I did identify with her confusion about the direction of her life after college, which relates directly to my own feelings after graduation in 1998. Her difficulties in finding work are handled well and do reflect the realities in today's problematic job market.

The love triangle takes shape after the oddball appearance of Michael (Ben Stiller)—a corporate television guy who stands in sharp contrast to the apathetic Troy. They meet when Lelaina throws her cigarette into his car and causes them to crash into each other. It's definitely an odd start to a relationship, but it does seem to have promise, which irritates Troy to no end. Michael is a tricky character because he does mean well and care for Lelaina, but is also caught up in corporate machine. The film appears to portray him as a decent guy trapped by the system, but he doesn't compare unfavorably to Troy's slacker idiocy.

Lelaina's two other good friends are Vickie (Janeane Garofalo)—a Gap store manager—and Sammy, who's gay and pals with Troy. Garofalo does a solid job in making the bed-hopping Vickie a sympathetic character as she frets about possibly catching the AIDS virus. It's unfortunate that she's pushed into the background behind the less-interesting love triangle. Zahn receives less time in only his second film role, but he makes a notable impression during his few scenes. Having fun with Troy, Lelaina, and others, the group provides silly moments, but they never seemed interesting enough to really draw me into the story.

Much of the film's success actually stemmed from its hugely popular soundtrack, which included a mix of retro hits and staples of 1995 alternative radio. A classic scene involves Lelaina, Vickie, and Sammy dancing to the Knack's My Sharona, a tune that enjoyed a resurgence following the film's release. Another monster hit was Lisa Loeb's Stay (I Missed You), which plays over the ending credits and received a ridiculous amount of airplay. Other notable tracks include Spin the Bottle by Juliana Hatfield, Going, Going, Gone by the Posies, and a cover of Peter Frampton's Baby, I Love Your Way by Big Mountain.

Reality Bites succeeds in portraying both the excitement and difficulties of young twenty-somethings trying to make their place in the world. It also includes stellar performances from actors like Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, and Janeane Garofalo who would go on to greater things. However, it falters considerably when dealing with the awkward love triangle and in telling a moving story. The result is a series of enjoyable scenes that fail to combine into a larger whole. It works fine as an decent time-waster, but never reaches the levels anticipated by the screenplay.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This new edition of Reality Bites utilizes an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that has been nicely remastered from the original release. The picture is almost completely devoid of grain and defects, and this clarity leads to an enjoyable presentation. This film mostly lacks stunning visuals, so the image quality is less noticeable, but it still works especially well throughout the feature.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides a solid 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that conveys the catchy pop tunes with significant energy. While the stars dance through the aisles of a convenience store, it's difficult not to join them from the living room. However, the audio does lack the power and complexity to really stand out as a premier transfer. Everything sounds fine and is easily understandable, but nothing moves beyond the typical expectations for this type of track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish, English (captions) with remote access
0 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Along Came Polly, Field of Dreams, Eurotrip
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Actor/director Ben Stiller, writer Helen Childress
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Lisa Loeb interview
  2. "Stay" music video by Lisa Loeb
  3. Cool '80s shows DVD commercials
Extras Review: This 10th Anniversary Edition of Reality Bites provides a decent collection of extra features that offer a worthwhile perspective. A 30-minute retrospective documentary speaks to all the film's major players and takes us through each element of its creation. Writer Helen Childress discusses the script's origins and the casting of each key character. Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and the other actors appear and talk about their enjoyment working on this project. We also hear from director/actor Ben Stiller, who was crafting his first film and had to overcome his own insecurities during production. Childress and Stiller also provide a feature-length commentary and have a great time reminiscing about the film. They interact very well and make this track a worth at least a viewing by fans.

This disc also includes a six-minute featurette concerning the surprisingly popular video for Stay (I Missed You) that propelled her to short-term stardom. Loeb is very open and speaks about both sides of the experience, and Director Ethan Hawke describes his intentions. This overplayed video is also available for viewing. There's also the original theatrical trailer and commercials for several '80s television series arriving on DVD. Prior to reaching the menu, you may also watch previews for several movies recently available on the home market.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

This 10th Anniversary Edition of Reality Bites aims to reintroduce the popular film to the next generation of young hipsters. A new version of the soundtrack also has been released with extra songs added to induce another purchase. This film has garnered numerous fans, so this release should do well once again. It includes a decent collection of extra features, and the picture quality is excellent. However, I wonder if kids today will really flock to this picture, which is more conventional than you might expect. Even given its exploration of the difficulties of post-college life, it ends up becoming a generic romantic comedy with a predictable ending.

 


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