So you’re graduating soon! Going out into the “real world” to be an “adult,” without the downy cushion of studenthood beneath your head. Good luck with that, I’m sure it will work out for you. If, however, for any reason you find yourself flailing, if you’re cast a bit adrift, don’t fear. There is a wealth of useful advice in the archive of ‘90s films. “Generation X”, as they were known, really knew how to be bummed out and confused: they “slacked” like nobody’s business, wore flannel like it meant something and had an awesome soundtrack to boot. Take a cue from those luckless ‘90s slackabouts, learn their lessons and you too could have a totally dope post-graduate experience.
Reality Bites (1994) has some important things to say about common 20-something problems like money, friends and dating musicians. Lelaina (Winona Ryder) is a promising young graduate, presumably talented and intelligent, despite her crush on Troy — played by Ethan Hawke — who spends much of the movie slouching, smirking and being generally unimpressed. Lelaina mistakes this for a brand of integrity and falls for him.
Do: Like Lelaina, date somebody a little lamer than you. Their directionlessness will stand in contrast to your mediocrity, and you will feel better about yourself. Troy has nothing to qualify him as a suitable romantic partner, but that is actually perfect, because once Lelaina (or you, new graduate) gets a real job, she can dump him like so much undergraduate idealism.
If, on the other hand, you are the Troy of this situation and you are the one with little or nothing to offer, don’t date the Lelainas of this world. She will eventually realize she should have gone with Ben Stiller’s character, and you’ll be left with nothing but your patchy facial hair and grunge band.
Don’t: Don’t turn down any offer that comes your way. Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder’s TV executive boyfriend offers to show her documentary to his bosses; in her innocence, she says “yes,” only to have it mangled by the evil corporate hands of “the man.” When she sees the result she says, ”As if! Whatever,” and runs out of the room and into her boyfriend’s heart. This seems really noble at the time, but considering the economy was no better then than it is now, not so wise. The film never answers how these kids ever make ends meet; we only see Lelaina and Troy goofing around on the couch, as though everything were “the bomb,” then the credits roll. Since this could mean the characters die (from joblessness), we can take this as a warning against never taking that chance. Give your documentary to the TV executives, even if they want to make it into a Pizza Hut commercial.
Singles (1992) is about six young people in Seattle during the height of its famous music scene. All of the characters are dissatisfied with their lives in a major way, and usually try to solve this by hooking up with one another.
Do: Move to a cool city. Kyra Sedgwick’s character falls for a guy who pretends to be leaving the country in several days, only to find him at a bar with another girl. She is understandably devastated, especially since she had given him her garage door opener as a sign of commitment.
Soon though, she meets a newer, better guy at an Alice in Chains concert, who happen to be playing at the local dive, like it’s no big deal. This is the advantage to living in a “happening city” — you have hip places to go, where you will find solutions to any current disappointment.
There is, of course, the option never to leave campus after you’ve finished. This is thoroughly examined in Kicking and Screaming (1995), a movie about four over-educated guys rendered helpless by graduation. Left to their own devices in the real world, they resort to quips like, “If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini,” in public even. If you want to avoid that possibility . . .
Do: Leave. Leave and don’t look back.
If none of this advice works out and you still feel lost, Reality Bites, Singles and Kicking and Screaming all involve some character leaving town. Should you have a big decision to make, especially a relationship decision, it might help you figure things out so . . .
Do: Airport scenes. Whatever it takes — unnecessary flights, chasing after a traveling friend, hanging out in the arrivals terminal. Just arrange to find yourself in a dramatic situation near a plane. This is a time of your life when a lot of things are undetermined, and nothing creates a defining moment like an airport scene.