I think everyone has a life-saver, you know, something you end up watching when you’re depressed, bored or tired. Many romantic high-school or college movies from the 80s and 90s do this job for me – John Hughes’ masterpieces (Pretty in Pink  and Some Kind of Wonderful), 10 Things I Hate About You, Ghost World, The Revenge of the Nerds, Singles and Reality Bites, among the others. Yesterday evening I was exhausted but didn’t feel like going to bed at 10 pm, so I decided to watch Reality Bites for the nth time.
Despite being one of my favourites, the movie directed by Ben Stiller and released in 1994, is probably one of the most painful to watch, because it still reminds me of my years at university, of the regrets and disappointments that came later, and serves as a perfect starting point to think about life in general. Well, I’ve recently taken a walk down memory lane, and I don’t want to go back there, so let me hit the point. I know most of you love Lelaina Pierce, the adorable-yet-complicated-and-intellectual character played by Winona Ryder, but why don’t we focus on Vickie Miner, Lelaina’s friend and flatmate, instead? I’ve always admired her style and attitude: here I’ll try to explain why.
The character, played by Janeane Garofalo, is a disillusioned girl who has just graduated from college, where – she says – the only thing she really learned is her social security number. She’s smart, pragmatic and hard-working; despite this, she strongly believes love should mean passion and “first kisses”, not living with a man for the rest of your life.
Her first appearance on screen gives us an important clue about her lifestyle. She’s wearing a dress with a floral print on a dark green background, the graduation black robe and huge round sunglasses with grey lens and clear pink frames. Her features are framed by clean-cut short bangs and long black hair.
In the opening scene, set on the roof of a building in Houston (the city where the story is set), we can also get a full-figure shot of her, platform sandals with chunky heels included. The dress she’s wearing is curve-hugging but not skimpy, another detail which tells a lot about her. This scene, like many others in the movie, is the footage of a documentary Lelaina is filming about “people who are trying to find their own identity without having any real role models or heroes or anything.”
Vicky’s bedroom reveals her personality as much as her clothes. All the decorations are kitchy, childish, and many are the references to the 70s, a decade which the girl has a passion for. I think this is pretty normal: there’s a moment in your life in which the decade you were born in becomes a sort of obsession and you start worshipping the culture (music, movies and fashion included) of that decade. There’s a poster of John Travolta as Tony Manero on a wall of her bedroom, for example, and a lovely 1978 Charlie’s Angels lunchbox on her bedside table, an object which she uses as handbag.
Vickie has an active sexual life and carefully writes down the names of the boys she’s slept with. This pragmatic attitude (reinforced by her sleepwear – a plain white t-shirt) contrasts with the lock diary she keeps her love accounts on, a childish and kind of romantic object. The bookmark in the diary has the same vibe because it’s decorated by three clowns, echoes from a childhood she surely lived in the 70s.
The 70s is not the only thing Vickie is obsessed with: she’s often seen keeping accounts or dealing with bills. This is surely related to her job, because she works at a Gap store as sales assistant (later in the story she is promoted the manager of the shop). The outfit in the opening footage strongly contrasts with her uniform at work, which includes a sleeveless blouse and above-the-knee chino skirt.
As soon as she leaves the store with Lelaina, she wears her trusty round sunglasses, a sort of reappropriation of her own identity.
When they go back to their apartment, we can see she’s wearing black clogs and carrying her Charlie’s Angels lunchbox as handbag.
Well, this scene, set at a local drugstore, is kind of cheesy, because Lelaina and Vickie start dancing to My Sharona, a song by the Knack, released in 1979 (another reference to that decade). Here Vicky is wearing a pale blue dress with white polka dots and details (collar and cuff). It’s buttoned on the front and is surely a piece from the 70s, something a housewife of that time would wear. This is one of the major trends in Vickie’s style, reinforcing her love for that decade and her self-confidence.
When Lelaina and Michael (Ben Stiller) go out on a date for the first time, he meets her at her apartment; there, the girl’s friends are playing a guessing game about tv series. In this scene, Vickie is wearing a white t-shirt and strawberry pink skirt overalls. In the first screencap, her watch is visible: this is another recurring element in her outfits, something which she apparently never takes off. It has a round beige case and a gold metal bracelet. I don’t know if it’s a piece from the 70s, but it’s a bit old-fashioned. Many years have passed since the movie was filmed, but some things never change, like the passion that some people (me included) have for tv shows.
Another footage from Lelaina’s documentary sees Vickie going to the Lonestar Free Clinic to get a HIV test, “the rite of passage for our generation”. Do today’s young generations have the same rite of passage? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, people are still dying of AIDS all over the world, but this syndrome is not perceived as a modern plague anymore. This is a dangerous perception, because the problem is far from being solved and we shouldn’t drop our guard, but surely people have clearer information about it. Vickie gets the test just “to be on the safe side” but we cannot help but feel worried for her. In this scene, she’s wearing a black mini-skirt, a knitted vest over a 3/4-sleeved blouse, an outfit which surely has a 70s vibe, reinforced by her patchwork handbag.
After Lelaina tells her mates she has lost her job at Good Morning Grant!, Vickie offers her a job as sales assistant at Gap, but Lelaina refuses (“I’m not gonna work at the Gap, for Christ’s sake”). Vickie reacts badly: she goes to her bedroom and slams the door closed. The Trammps’ Disco Inferno is the music barrier she puts between her and her friend, another sign of her love for the 70s. Her dress, too, is a memory from that decade. If you are fan of kinderwhore style, you may remember Kat Bjelland often wore a similar dress on stage: Vicky’s is red with tiny white polka dots and a white pointed collar.
Oh, I love this scene, which is actually another part of Lelaina’s documentary. Vickie is speaking her mind about relations, explaining she doesn’t want to get married because she doesn’t want to end up like her parents, who are like “brother and sister at this point.” Her outfit is not special (she’s just wearing a white tee), but her words are, because they tell a lot about her idea of love. I like the scene also because one of her (boy)friends makes an appearance: he’s David Pirner, voice and guitar of Soul Asylum, a band from Minneapolis famous in the 90s, especially thanks to the single Runaway Train and its heart-breaking video. At the time, Pirner was a friend of Winona Ryder and accepted to make a cameo in the movie.
After the fight they had for the job at Gap, there’s still tension between Lelaina and Vickie, when a four hundred and six dollar telephone bill arrives. Leilaina is unemployed and spends her time watching tv and talking to a psychic phone partner (the voice was Amy Stiller’s, Ben’s sister), but Vickie can’t stand the situation anymore. “You are in the bell jar”, she says, thus making a reference to the novel by Sylvia Plath of the same title. In this case, she’s wearing a lovely yellow Paisley-printed tunic dress with long sleeves, an item of clothing which surely comes from the 70s.
Lelaina soon finds another job and things seem to get better for them. The “problem” is Troy (Ethan Hawke), the beautiful and damned musician who still hasn’t found a place in the world and fights with anybody. There’s an irresistible chemistry between Lelaina and him, but they fight with each other for most part of the movie. In this scene, Vickie is busy with bills and a calculator: she’s wearing a cute red dress with a white red star print, buttoned on the front and with short sleeves.
There’s a close-up on the dress in the following scene, where Leilaina and Vickie go to a coffee shop. Vickie also has her trusty Charlie’s Angels lunchbox with her. This scene has an hilarious starting (the girls discuss how ugly is Troy, but Vickie says: “He’s weird. He’s strange. He’s sloppy. He’s a total nightmare for women. I can’t believe I haven’t slept with him yet”), but ends on a serious note, when the girl explains she’s so worried for the result of the HIV test she got. She compares herself to the new character of a tv show like Melrose Place, a character with HIV who dies after bonding with her new friends. Even in serious situations, she’s able to make jokes and crack a smile.
The day of the results has arrived (documented by Lelaina’s camera): the test is negative and everybody is happy! Vickie smiles at the camera and we feel finally relieved. She’s wearing a white tee with a black vest and a pair of wide-cut brown trousers, a simple outfit which she accessorizes with some necklaces and tiny earrings. Eugenie Bafaloukos, the costume designer of the movie, did an excellent job with her because she created perfectly balanced outfits. Vickie could be easily been turned into a caricatural character, but her style never goes overboard.
Her graduation floral dress is back in another scene on tape. Besides Vickie, Lelaina and Troy, another interesting character is Sammy (Steve Zahn): he’s not a flatmate, but he spends all his time with them. He’s gay and has never come out of the closet with his mother. Sammy and Vickie enact the moment in which Sammy will speak to his mother. In the following scene (again caught on tape by Lelaina), Sammy is a bit worried by his mother’s reaction but he feels relieved. I think this is one of the best and true-to-life moments of the movie: he’s a shy boy and rarely expresses his thoughts but this time he opens his heart in front of the camera.
The very last scene in which Vickie appears is at a bar where Troy is playing with his band. The boy and Lelaina have made love and now things are complicated. Vickie has realized what happened and “sex is the quickest way to ruin a friendship”, she tells her friend, thus giving us another glimpse of her philosophy on life and love. Here, Vickie is wearing the yellow Paisley tunic dress again and an array of beaded bracelets.
As it often happens to my favourite characters in movies (the case of Vickie) or in tv shows (think of Millie Kentner in Freaks and Geeks, Lily Van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl or Ella Montgomery in Pretty Little Liars), they don’t have a central role in the narration, so they are kind of undeveloped: this is bad, because they’re complex characters who should have been given more screen time, but also positive, because they are surrounded by an aura of mystery which makes you keep on thinking of them.
 Technically, Pretty in Pink is not a movie by Hughes, since it was directed by Howard Deutch.