We watched Reality Bites today for the first time since we’d both seen it when it came out in the mid-90s. Now, I didn’t adore Reality Bites when it came out, but I definitely remember thinking it was funny and romantic at the very least. What a difference a decade makes, eh?
This time through, the movie was an almost non-stop cringe-fest punctuated with shrieks of indignation and the occasional urge to throw something at the television. Watching the whole thing was an exercise in self-restraint and scientific experiment, effectively. It was only enjoyable in the chemical sense of the continuous glow of mild rage warming me on another cold Winter’s day.
At the most basic, the two key protagonists (played by Winona and Ethan there) are such colossal assholes it’s kind of mind-blowing to think a movie could be built around them. They’re disrespectful to pretty much everyone they meet (including each other), they steal from their family, they let people down, they have an unearned sense of superiority about their artistic pursuits, and on. And on and on. They feel like they’re more mid teens than early 20s.
All of which is kind of hilarious, because I watch myself ranting (and feeling) this way about the movie and thinking about how I’m like some old person, indignant at “these kids”. Frankly, there’s probably a big fat nugget of truth in that. We do change, after all. Still, fun to be able to observe those changes in yourself. I don’t want to shake my head condescendingly at my younger self, but I don’t know if I can help it… how the hell did I watch it and not become enraged? Why was I even moderately tolerant to the terrible behaviour of the characters? Geeze, Young Pippin. Geeze.
Which briefly gets me to another “bad behaviour” specialist – Larry David. See, we’re also watching a lot of Curb Your Enthusiasm at the moment. Larry’s famous for doing the wrong thing and then making it worse, so you’d think there would be some affinity between his show and Reality Bites. But no, not really. See, the thing about Larry is that, in my humble opinion, he doesn’t actually do very many terrible things. Rather, he’s surrounded by people who are unbelievably crazy about bizarre social norms. In a way, he lives in an LA populated by extremist Emily Posts or something.
Case in point, the ski-lift episode. My parents had warned me ahead of time that Larry was utterly intolerable in this episode. Sometimes he does push it quite a bit, so I was waiting for something pretty bad. Then this crazy-ass woman, obsessed with not being alone with Larry in a ski-lift after sunset, demands that he leap down to the snow below. Larry… doesn’t. Okay, fine, not necessarily super understanding of him – but would you jump down? I wouldn’t. Then the extremist bit? She jumps off. That’s how far gone the people in Curb Your Enthusiasm are. They’re prepared to do and say almost anything to prove a minor social point. It’s not Larry, it’s the crazy version of LA he lives in.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Texas, Winona and Ethan’s characters are giggling about how they stole hundreds of dollars from her father to pay for Winona’s psychic hotline addiction…