Twentysomethings say 'Reality Bites,' well, they're right

March 01, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

We gave them everything. And they hate us.

We gave them cable. We gave them MTV. We gave them "Partridge Family" reruns. My gosh, we even gave them remote. We gave and gave and gave.

And they hate us.

That's one of the basic themes of "Reality Bites," which is being talked up as the defining movie for the twentysomethings, the Generation Xers. It's supposed to be their version of "The Graduate," although, of course, not as good. It wasn't made in the '60s, was it?

I saw "Reality Bites" the other night. As fortysomethings, my wife and I were the oldest people in the theater by about, well, a generation. The movie was funny and smart and scary as hell to actual grown-ups.

They hate us. They reject us. They think we're hypocrites.

I like that in a generation.

Give me disaffection every time, particularly that hip, nihilistic, narcissistic, unfiltered-Camels, James-Dean-on-a-Harley disaffection. It's what kids are supposed to do. They're not supposed to flock to B-schools, like they did in the '80s, and worship at the tinny feet of Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. Those weren't kids. They dropped from the womb carrying Gucci briefcases.

The young people in "Reality Bites" are confused, messed up, RTC vaguely angry and convinced that it's all their parents' fault.

You can't blame them. We Boomers bring this on ourselves. We've been celebrating our generation forever, and where's the payoff?

In "Reality Bites," and in real life too, these days you go to a prestigious college and you end up working at the Gap. The Boomers have all the good jobs.

Or, told by parents, teachers and family counselors that everything you did was pretty darn near perfect, you think you're an artist and don't understand why, out in reality-land, you're not quite as appreciated anymore. You might have to, oh, I don't know, start at the bottom, work your way up, that kind of thing. Which nobody ever mentioned before.

Of course, it's the hypocrite charge that hits home.

The movie opens with a valedictory speech at her graduation from an unnamed prestigious college by Lelaina Pierce (played by the wondrous Winona Ryder), who rails at her parents' generation for trading in the values of their youth for shiny, new BMWs.

As if to make sure nobody missed the point, that same night her father gives her a Beamer as graduation present. We give them everything and nothing. She's leaving home, bye-bye. As she leaves, though, she takes the car, until she can afford to buy a cheaper one of her own.

So, we sold out. Big time.

Worse than that, though, all we left the kids was the cynicism that we wear as a talisman.

What is left for them to believe in? Love? They look at their parents, and they're all divorced. There's no happy-ever-after except in Disney movies.

Even lust isn't what it used to be, not with the threat of AIDS hanging over every bedroom door like the Sword of Damocles.

In the movie, Ryder's character is a would-be documentarian. She's got that video-cam working constantly, following around her friends on their individual trips to nowhere. The love interest is Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke), who's going nowhere the fastest.

Troy is the too-smart, too-wise, too-jaded, too-grunged, underground-rock-singer-poet who, of course, really doesn't understand anything.

He doesn't believe in anything either. He tells the story of how, before his father died, he took him to a beach and said that the secret of life was found inside a seashell -- where there is, of course, nothing but sound. Not even fury. Troy says life "is just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes." There's another love interest. He thinks it's still the '80s. Does drive a BMW. Knows what he wants.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out how this one comes out. Confusion conquers all. Same as in "The Graduate."

Remember how the movie ends? Ben has rescued Elaine from the marriage Mrs. Robinson wants for her.

They've escaped and they're sitting on a bus. Ben has this self-satisfied smile. Elaine looks bewildered.

And the only thing we know about the couple is that they have no idea where they're going or if they'll get there. It's the same message again in "Reality Bites." Except this time, we don't even think they have a chance.

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