I made Reality Bites because I absolutely hated one of my kids. The little fucker didn’t want to do anything but smoke reefer, laugh at people, and attach the label “Stupid” onto everything he was too stupid to understand. I bought him everything he ever asked for and he called me a Capitalist. I started throwing some of the shit away and he called me a Fascist. I asked him, “Do you even know what those words mean, you bastard son of a bitch?” He just turned back to his Light Bright. “Words are stupid,” he mumbled.
So, in order to connect with him, I thought I’d try to make a movie that would appeal to his dumb ass. I prepared by watching twenty minutes of “120 Minutes,” eating only microwaved food for a week, and reading The Bible from a purely ironic perspective. If you think Reality Bites is like watching an exercise in retardation, that’s because I’m such a badass filmmaker. It might as well be a documentary. By the time we were done filming, I hated Janeane Garofalo so much I went gay for a while.
So we have this girl who just graduated from college and now has to enter The Real World: Seattle. I’m not sure what she majored in, but I bet it was something along the lines of “Depressing Poetic Moving Imagery”. Her sense of self is entirely based on all the douchebags she’s slept with, mixed with her hazy idea of what it SHOULD be (but isn’t). She has a job delivering coffee to the set of Frasier, and she spends a lot of time getting yelled at by John Mahoney and that spoiled dog.
She has a trio of friends who may or may not be roommates because they may or may not be homeless. The three stereotypes on display are: slightly militant woman who’s so sarcastic you can only understand her if you’ve been aptly schooled in Bizarro talk, gay guy who doesn’t act or look gay at all but we’re pretty sure he is because none of these assholes would hang out with him if he weren’t, and…well, I think I oughtta start a new paragraph about this next winner.
Slacker #4 is actually Slacker #1. Based on my research, Scott Weiland as portrayed by Ethan Hawke is the coolest goddamn character ever put to the screen, a fact which drove me to one of my anti-depressant addictions. He is so utterly disgusted with the world that he considers anyone with self-respect, ambition, or sincerity not worth pissing-out a fire for. Emotional Predator: he sleeps with girls based on how low their self esteem is. Unethical Snob: he looks through people’s record collections to gage exactly how much money he’s gonna steal from them (Violent Femmes=$5, The Beatles=$50, Peter Frampton=$100, Lynyrd Skynyrd=All in). Dipshit Bum: he gets fired from a job for stealing a Snickers bar because it’s legally not very easy to fire someone just for being an asshole.
I have never hated one of my characters the way I hated this guy. Sure, he’s based on my son, but if my son’s not a shining example of why another Vietnam isn’t such a bad idea (to paraphrase Bart Simpson), I don’t know what is.
Of course, our main girl kind of likes him. She thinks he might like her too because he’s so much meaner to her than everyone else. The closer they get to falling in love, the more they act and sound like college-educated 2nd graders. But before they can tie the knot that strangles her to death, a shining light of sanity enters the film.
By way of cute car wreck, she meets Ben Stiller who is funny, successful, and owns a Dr. Zaius statue (I’ll get back to this statue in a bit). He is everything women who watch Sex and the City long for. But because this is a movie where money beyond marginal utility=LAME, she isn’t quite sure about his prospects. They go on a date and he earns some heavy negative points by being really charming and nice. He even gets her a job, a favor she repays by dumping him and going home to fuck the lice-infected sore sleeping on her couch instead. That’s pretty much how the movie ends. We filmed an epilogue set ten years later where the now toothless and crack-addicted couple casually steal orange juice and loafs of bread from WalMart, but the studio deemed it “too real”.
Anyway, here’s where I’m a genius: to the young idiots watching this movie when it came out, this was a good ending. She picked the right guy. But if I was going to have any faith in humanity, I had to hope for a different mindset later down the line. And that’s why I gave Stiller the Dr. Zaius doll. Thanks to that doll, we can now recognize that Stiller is not the corporate sell-out tool we though he was. He’s just a regular guy trying to do his best in a harsh, money-based world. I mean, he’s not even all that lame. It’s not like I gave him an Inspector Gadget or Looney Tunes doll. It’s Planet of the Fucking Apes! Sure, it would have been cooler if he had a Caesar instead of Zaius, but come on.
So in retrospect, what was once a light comedy has become a light tragedy. Time has changed the hero to a villain and vice versa. In that way, I’ve always thought of Reality Bites as an unofficial sequel to The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare and I both know what we’re doing when it comes to future interpretations.
When I finally finished the film and showed it to my son, he threw Cheetos at the screen and called it stupid. Two years later he died choking on one of those plastic display grapes. I would have given him the Heimlich but we don’t do that sort of thing in the church I belong to.