I Love the Gas Card Scene But That’s Not Why Reality Bites is my Favorite Movie

My favorite movie of all time would have to be Reality Bites. Not because Ethan Hawke is so sexy (although he is) and not because Winona Ryder is so beautiful and gosh darn likeable (which she most certainly is) or even because of the scene where she and Janean Garofalo dance to “My Sharona.” (while it is arguably  the best scene in the whole movie, except for maybe the love scene at the end with Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. And is my choice of “love scene” versus “sex scene” a sign that I  am becoming crusty with age?)


I love this movie because I saw it when it came out in 1994, 598 times in college, about twice after college, and at least once since having Sweet Pea. Even though I know just about every line by heart, it meant something different to me every time I watched it.

Regarding the prolific Reality Bites viewing that went on during my college days: That was largely a function of it being one of the few movies my roommate and I owned. We watched it on our four head VCR because when we were at Circuit City shopping for this momentous joint purchase, a salesman with a sexy accent like Cesar Milan said “Two beautiful ladies like you need a four head VCR, not a two-head VCR” and we were sold.

The first time I watched Reality Bites, in high school, I didn’t really see what was so bad about working at The Gap after college. Wouldn’t you get a discount on the clothes? I thought it was kind of sad that our heroine doesn’t get the job with the publishing house but then again, how did she graduate college without being able to state the definition of irony, anyway? My AP English exam was less tricky than that. And I didn’t quite understand what was so funny and ridiculous about Winona Ryder trying to Ben Stiller her with the statement “I’m a non-practicing virgin.” I might not have even picked up in the fact that Ethan Hawke despised everything about Ben Stiller and what he represented. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that Ben Stiller represented anything at all.

The next few hundred times I watched this movie, I felt bad for Janean Garafolo when her best friend completely insults her job. I got why Winona Ryder had mixed feelings about driving her father’s BMW, even if it was an older model. I thought the idea of charging strangers’ gas on your father’s gas card in exchange for cash was positively genius. I didn’t get why Janean Garafolo was being such a drama queen about the HIV test and the possibility of being like the AIDS character on a Melrose Place episode… if she was so worried about it, maybe she shouldn’t have had sex with so many guys. And more importantly where did she meet all those guys, anyway?

And the last few dozen times I’ve watched it? I realized this movie is about figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. What kind of job do you want? What do you value? Who are your real friends and how do your friends define you? How much help are you willing to accept and does taking a handout or two from your parents keep you from growing up? Are you a prostitute if you take a job that will pay the bills but leaves your soul empty? Or are you just doing what adults do? And if you don’t take responsibility are you a loser or a child? Or does that make a you an authentic person? Can you be true to yourself and make it in the world on your own? And life is so confusing, is it really so ridiculous to call a psychic when it gets too overwhelming?

So there’s that. And also the fact that watching this movie always reminds me that there was a time when my college roommate/BFF and I used to sit around and talk, in vivid detail, about the way our lives were going to be, down to the names of our children, and exactly what types of guys our husbands would be. It reminds me of how we made a pact that if we weren’t married by the time we were 30, we would live with each other forever. Which made complete sense because it was both a testament to how much we enjoyed living together (except when she ate all the chunks out of the cookie dough ice cream) and to our cool ignorance of the speed with which time passes. Becoming thirty (an entire thirty!) years old- the idea was almost laughable, our contract pretty much a joke. Though it was less funny when I was 29 and had not yet met Dan. 

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

This post was brought to you by the Finish The Sentence Friday link up. 

Please visit the FTSF hosts, Stephanie at Mommy For Real, Janine at Janine’s Confessions of  Mommyholic, Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine,  and Dawn at Dawn’s Disaster.
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18 thoughts on “I Love the Gas Card Scene But That’s Not Why Reality Bites is my Favorite Movie

  1. Janine Huldie says:

    I totally forgot how much I too loved this movie. and I also owned a copy and watched it so many times, I truly lost count. Loved the whole movie, but especially the the ending. Really was so happy she ended up with Ethan Hawke and not Ben Stiller. For some reason, I was never a fan of his really, so this ending suited me just fine. I even had the soundtrack, too, because the music was great from this movie. Thanks for reminding me of this and for linking up with us again, too!! 🙂

  2. Pam Moore says:

    @ Janinie- Ok, we’re still friends, but I totally love Ben Stiller.. even his character in this movie. And yes, the soundtrack! THE SOUNDTRACK..

  3. youareagoodmama.com says:

    So this is one of those movies (and there are many) that I haven’t actually seen all the way through, but I owned and loved the soundtrack. It’s funny how our favorite movies grow and change in meaning with us!(And I LOVE your comment greeting. Top Gun is def one of my most fave movies ever. Hello, volleyball scene!!)

  4. Mary Hill says:

    Okay you inspired another favorite movie out of me. The graduating and coming of age movie of my time, “St. Elmo’s Fire.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXSmXthmkvoI loved this picture for this theme. I had just started college when it came out. I had so many goals and so identified with the nerd girl, played by Mare Winningham, in the movie and her crush on Rob Lowe’s Billy Hicks.Anyway thanks for the memories of great coming of age movies. 😉

  5. Katia says:

    I love how constructed this, with Reality Bites being like a kind of a mirror reflecting you. I absolutely love the humour and the discussion on how we view the same movie differently even though it’s the same movie and we’re supposed to be the same us, except we’re not. I’ve watched Reality Bites once. It might have been the first movie I’ve gone to with my then boyfriend, now husband. You made me want to rewatch it ASAP.

  6. Linda Roy says:

    I like this movie so much and you nailed all the reasons why. “Girls” kinda touches on these issues too, for a whole new generation. The Cesar Milan guy selling you the 4 head VCR cracked me up! And Ethan Hawke? Oh yes. Also Matt Dillon. Great pick!

  7. Terrye says:

    I hate to admit it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this movie. If I find it, I’ll have to check it out after your description. Love the life lessons! 🙂 I need to find out if I’m a prostitute! 😀

  8. Kristi Campbell says:

    I’ve actually never seen Reality Bites but you make me want to. Especially the part about that it’s a bit focused on figuring out what you want to be when you grow up (something I still struggle with even now).

  9. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    I LOVE this movie, too! It seemed like a really significant, formative movie for me during my adolescence. There’s something sort of rite-of-passage-like about this movie to me. I was a teenager when it came out, and I too missed so much of the movie, simply lacking the perspective to fully grasp it. And yet in some ways, I did. The whole “becoming an inauthentic sell-out” thing stood out for me, though I really didn’t understand the implications for when one actually hits adulthood. I had forgotten about how much I love this movie, and it makes me want to watch it again.

  10. clark says:

    “Two beautiful ladies like you need a four head VCR, not a two-head VCR”Good what a great line! I would love to have the personality to be able to say something like that with a straight face. lol

  11. Melissa@Home on Deranged says:

    Been a long time since I saw Reality Bites. I remember finding it overwhelmingly annoying at first. I didn’t like Winona taking shots at her friend’s job, and I think I thought the character in general was grating. But, when I was older, it grew on me.

  12. JenKehl.com says:

    I love your take on Reality Bites, which I only saw once. Sorry. But I love even more how your idea of it changed over time. I feel like that about Annie Hall. When I was young it was funny. Now I realize it’s kind of sad.

  13. Chandra says:

    Haaaa heeee, you think you are safe but I may still come and steal the cookie dough out of your ice cream if it’s gluten free. Yeah what made us so smug at that age like 30 would never arrive? I had forgotten about the 4 head VCR. However I still do not regret the decision. Those 2 extra heads gave us more than double the viewing pleasure, I believe. The funny thing is I still have no idea what that means.We should have a girl’s night and watch that movie I do not think I’ve seen it for at least 10 years and would be so much fun to watch it with you. Maybe I’d feel old but I don’t care!

  14. Jean Heff says:

    I reconnected with my Reality Bites viewing partner a few years ago. We watched it frequently when we were in high school together. We talked a lot about what you wrote about in this post. This made me think about how movies can create memory markers for us. I have a horrible memory so I need these cues to help me remember events in my life. Reality Bites definitely brings a lot of memories back for me.Thank you for reminding me of this awesome, awesome movie.

  15. Chris Coyle says:

    Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this movie, much less seen it. Looks like that’s another one to add to my “to do” list. 🙂 [#FTSF]

  16. Bianca @ Track Pants and a Tot says:

    Ah yes, this came out when I was in middle school & I remember throwing fits when both of my parents wouldn’t let me watch it. I forgot about it, but I think I’ll give it a go one of these days….when I can find the time with the baby & all. Ah, I miss my high school & college friendships. Can’t get any better than that

  17. Pam Moore says:

    @Linda- Yes I am obsessed with Girls and Lena Dunham is my idol. @Kristi I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, too. @Clark – Note, you probably can only get away with saying this to certain women (eg myself 15 years ago). I think I would laugh out loud if someone said that to me now. @Jean You had a Reality Bites viewing partner, too!? The four of us need to go on a double date or something

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