Yesterday evening at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, I saw the best film I’ve seen at Sundance 2012 so far: “Reality Bites.” Screening as a “from the vaults” presentation — with director Ben Stiller and writer Helen Childress in tow for a 40 minute Q&A afterwards — the screening came exactly 18 years after its debut screening in that very theater. Sure, there was little real professional reason for me to see it. But after 4 exhausting days and nights seeing movies I’ve mostly been underwhelmed by, it was a nice little treat.
I should probably make this clear: I first saw “Reality Bites” when I was 12 years old, and have been more or less obsessed with it ever since. I had the poster on my bedroom wall, I wore out the soundtrack CD twice, and have probably watched it more than any other film. I’ll admit it’s not a perfect movie, or even particularly cinematic. But it’s such a wonderfully optimistic and sincere little film, with dozens of killer one-liners (mostly care of Janeane Garofalo) and perhaps the best performance Winona Ryder has ever given.
I must say that film holds up remarkably well. While there’s clearly dated elements (the internet doesn’t exist; cell phones are rare and large), the core story of trying to survive your twenties with your integrity and happiness in check is easily a universal one, and the way “Reality Bites” presents it is so sincere and accessible. And frankly, they don’t make films like it anymore.
Oddly enough, I think the film’s following is not so much from folks who were the age of the characters in the film (roughly 23 or 24) when it was released. Most of the people that seem to make up its fanbase are considerably younger than that, and saw the film initially as teenagers and are now 30ish. For me, the film struck a cord because it was what I thought being in your twenties WOULD feel like. It was such a warm window into a potential future. That’s what drew me to it over and over and over. And I know I’m not alone.
Yesterday was the first time I ever saw the film in a theater. And sitting there as someone actually OLDER than the characters was admittedly a pretty emotional experience. It tapped into serious nostaglia and coupled with Sundance-related exhaustion, I felt the film as much as I did when I first saw it 16 years ago.
Here’s full (and admittedly quite shitty, sorry) video from the Q&A afterwards: