If the title is an observation that life in the real world hurts, it's reasonable. If it's meant to indicate little snippets of reality (as in sound bites), get a grip, guys! Billed as hip, 90s romantic comedy for an audience American trend analysts condescend to label Generation X, this is really the old, old love triangle tangle, dressed by Gap and styled by MTV, in which new university graduate, aspiring (inept, we'd call it) filmmaker and idealist Lelaine (Winona Ryder) seeks meaningful employment along with her identity and is torn between sweet, older, well-dressed video exec Michael (Ben Stiller) and hip, scornful, dishevelled and directionless Troy (Ethan Hawke).
The most graceful note in Stiller's feature directorial debut is Ryder, winsome despite the contradictions in a character who is her class valedictorian but curiously inarticulate, questionably literate, and, for a bright, attractive 23-year-old, embarrassingly coy on dates. Around her is the now customary mixed bag of college buddies struggling with young adulthood: promiscuous clothing store manageress, inoffensive gay pal, and grungy Troy — all expert at the art of "time-suckage" and diverted by pizza-fuelled quiz games or post-Boomer junk culture like the Brady Bunch or thrashing around to nostalgic tunes like The Knack's My Sharona.
The nods to AIDS and the vacuity of the 90's TV and slacker sensibilities (frequently unintelligible to those who didn't receive their life-training in an American shopping mall) are merely decoration on what, unadorned, is about how youthful aspirations are compromised by the boring but true prognostications of parents on the theme "After You've Been In The Real World A While ..." In the relationships department, Singles covered similar ground more observantly and a lot more amusingly but this is the kind of film that plays best to a certain age group - and if you start rooting for Stiller over Hawke to win Ryder's affections - you're too old!