Reality Bites Movie Poster Image

Reality Bites

Comedy about 20-something slackers isn't for kids.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1994
  • Running Time: 99 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The characters generally mean well, but they take everything from sex to drug use very casually.

Not applicable

Characters are shown engaging in casual sex with multiple partners. One character has an HIV scare.

Not applicable

Characters explicitly discuss the merits of the Big Gulp. Dominos is mentioned and is featured in the narrative as is Evian.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters are shown smoking cigarettes and marijuana and drinking beer and other alcohol.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film features 20-something recent college graduates who drink, smoke, and sleep around. There are few consequences for their behavior, save for a very mild subplot in which one of the characters takes an AIDS test (she tests negative). However, the characters generally mean well, and parents who don't object to depictions of sex and drug/alcohol use may find their behavior towards each other acceptable.

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

REALITY BITES opens with a speech in which college valedictorian and fledgling documentarian Lelaina (Winona Ryder) expresses her general dissatisfaction with the world she's about to take on. That vague angst is the most consistent plot thread running through the film as Lelaina and her three buddies Vickie (Janeane Garofalo), Sammy (Steve Zahn), and Troy (Ethan Hawke) labor at worthless jobs, play drinking games, cavort for Lelaina's documentary cameras, and look for love. Lelaina and Troy seem meant for each other, but when she (literally) bumps into an older, slicker television executive (Ben Stiller), a predictable love triangle ensues.

Is it any good?


Overall, the movie is not without charm or laughs, and although the ending is supposed to be happy, it is rather shallow. Anyone over 25 will find the main characters rather insufferable, while those under 25 might find it dated.

And boy, oh boy do the characters who inhabit Reality Bites love to talk. They talk about their love lives, their search for meaningful work, their favorite TV shows. They talk about their lame parents, their boring jobs, their slacker friends. It's not that all the talk isn't occasionally amusing; on the contrary, the dialogue is smart and bubblegum-culture-savvy enough to provoke chuckles amongst Gen X parents. It's just that the characters take themselves so incredibly seriously, and never shut up.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about movies' responsibility. Should movies that target teens and 20-year-olds simply reflect their behavoir -- or does seeing characters drink, smoke and have casual sex on screen glamorize their behavior?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 18, 1994
DVD/Streaming release date:July 21, 1998
Cast:Ben Stiller, Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder
Director:Ben Stiller
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:99 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some language, drug content and sensuality

This review of Reality Bites was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

  • High Fidelity Movie Poster Image
    Funny, neurotic, and charming, but not for kids.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bywonder dove November 25, 2013

Wonderful post-college story for 14+

Reality Bites is an excellent drama (not comedy) basically about life after college and the struggles young people go through to get by, like relationships, paying bills, getting decent jobs, self-esteem, and finding true meaning to their existence. I used to watch this plenty of times at around 12 years old because I had a crush on Ethan Hawk. It centers around Lelaina (Winona Ryder) who often uses a camcorder to document her "unexciting" life with her friends after college, sharing quotes and thoughts on every day occurrences. She lives with her friends and bunks with her best friend Vicki (Janeane Garofalo), is also best friends with Troy (Ethan Hawk) who's unemployed musician and Sammy (Steve Zahn) who's confused about where he belongs. There is always a connection between Troy and Lelaina where you think they just may end up together but nothing actually happens until she meets a hunky video executive named Michael (Ben Stiller) and jealously starts to spiral. Lelaina can't seem to make up her mind while Vicki, who works at the Gap, is concerned about her AIDS test results. In the end, Lelaina must choose between a life of security with a man she barely has fun with or a life with a lazy slacker who hits all the right notes. I loved the emotional scenes throughout which is incredibly realistic, the discussions and behavior of each character were solid. The language is pretty mild with sh*t (twice), b*tch, hell. Violence has some arguments and one angry outburst where a guy hits a wall. Sexual content includes a few scenes of kissing, a woman dates two guys, a guy dates a woman to get another woman's attention, women talk about sexually related stuff like becoming a lesbian would be easier...etc, talk of an AIDS test, rhino's in a home-made video are shown having sex for a second as a joke, a young couple kiss and sleep together where we see some skin, touching and groping (no nudity), a TV host is reading from cards and says he likes very young girls...this was meant to be written as a joke from an employee who gets fired, a frustrated man sings a love song on stage about wanting to go to bed with a woman, he uses some suggestive words ("Can I get just one screw"). There is some drinking, there is a scene of pot smoking but not explicit, a woman chain smokes at one point due to stress, lots of smoking by characters throughout. Overall, great story with good humor and storyline. OK for 14+.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking