Happy anniversary to Reality Bites, the movie that not only defined Generation X but made it cool to make out to “Baby, I Love Your Way” while slurping a Big Gulp. Ben Stiller’s directorial debut encapsulated what it was like to be a twenty-something in 1994, from Gap promotions and toilet-paper coffee filters to AIDS scares and coming out to your family.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when the gang gets stoned and Lelaina (Winona Ryder) suggests they purchase food with her father’s gas card. They proceed to stock up on Pringles, Minute Maid and other munchie snacks.
“Evian is naïve spelled backwards!” Janeane Garofalo’s character Vickie says excitedly, right before she begs the cashier to turn up the volume when she hears the signature bass line of the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Lelaina, Vickie and Sammy (Steve Zahn) dance around the shop, as Troy (Ethan Hawke) stands at the counter looking annoyed. They scream so loud at the chorus that the cashier scolds them.
Released in June 1979, “My Sharona” was the Knack’s first single and became an instant hit, the fastest debut release to go gold since the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Amazingly, the lead vocals were recorded in one take. “The whole thing was very spontaneous,” producer Mike Chapman told Rolling Stone in 1979. “That song took no more than three hours to record.”
Sharona Alperin was 17 years old when the Knack’s late singer and co-writer Doug Fieger, who died in 2010, wrote the song about her. (She’s even featured on the cover of the single in a white tank top, clutching a copy of the band’s first album, Get the Knack.) With lyrics like “Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind/I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind,” the seductive New Wave hit might seem extremely creepy and inappropriate today. Fieger attempted to explain this in 2005, when he claimed that not only was he just 25 at the time he wrote it, but that “My Sharona” is in fact written from the perspective of a teenager: “It’s just an honest song about a 14-year-old boy,” he said.
The Reality Bites scene the song soundtracks turned out to be one of the 1994 film’s highlights. “When we shot at night, I figured it was OK to have a cocktail first,” Garofalo recalled. “So in my trailer freezer, I had vodka chilling — which didn’t hurt my mood when it came to doing scenes like the dance to ‘My Sharona’ at the gas station. I remember laughing a lot doing that.”
In 2018, the cast reunited at the 25th-anniversary screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Reality Bites was a formative experience in my life,” Stiller in a statement. “Looking forward to seeing the whole cast, and possibly changing the ending so Michael gets Lelaina.”