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REALITY BITES: It Still Rings True 20 Years After Release

Reality Bites celebrates its 20th anniversary today, but throw it back in theaters and you might find that the subject matter—youthful disillusionment, being overeducated but broke and lost during a recession—still rings true to many.

Answering the phone in one scene, Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) says coolly, “Hello, you’ve reach the winter of our discontent.”

And so it goes.

Peppered with up-and-coming actors, including Winona Ryder (Lelaina Pierce), Ben Stiller (Michael Grates), Jeneane Garofalo (Vickie Miner), and Steve Zahn (Sammy Gray)—none of which, aside from Stiller, maintained a steady momentum—Reality Bites is a stew of pop culture references, vaguely prolific retorts, and plenty of longing.

Lelaina and Troy are friends who should be lovers; Sammy is is Lelaina’s closeted, celibate friend; and Vickie, one of the film’s brighter points, is Ryder’s Gap-employed best friend, attending jean-folding seminars by day and dishing out witty hilarity by night. Stiller, only 28 at the time, acts as cheesy TV exec Michael, who falls for Leilana and wants to promote the documentary she’s making about 20-something existence. Laid back, lazy, but with rhythm, Reality Bites is a film that coasts, buoyed by its intelligence but sometimes weighted down by too much of the existential blahs.

Last year it was reported that Stiller, who served beside 23-year-old screenwriter Helen Childress as the film’s director (his directorial debut), is turning Reality Bites into a comedy for NBC. Happily for fans of the film, Childress has committed to write the show’s script, which, true to its roots, will also take place in Houston in the 90s. 

Further proof that despite the past two decades, Reality Bites—representing the stumbling path toward adulthood—hits as close to home as ever.

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Andrea Fisher

Andrea Fisher

Andrea Fisher is a writer, blogger, and content specialist for surf1tv. She has been published in a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Business Insider. To read more of her work, visit