For most of us, the release of a 10th anniversary DVD means bloopers and behind-the-scenes commentary. For screenwriter Helen Childress, it meant another chance to be sued — for defamation over "Reality Bites," that 1994 Winona Ryder flick about a group of post-college singles in Houston.
Unfortunately for Childress, it’s not a suit that’s easy to shake. This week an appeal court disagreed with her lawyers that “the challenges facing Generation X in the early 1990s” was a topic so worthy the film should qualify for special protection from lawsuits.
So Childress and her co-defendants will have to continue fighting Troy Dyer — not the “rebellious slacker” played by Ethan Hawke, but a real financial consultant who went to USC film school with Childress. The Wisconsinite claims potential clients have been asking if he’s the same guy as the one in the movie.
The defense tried to get the suit thrown out early on by claiming the movie was about a public-interest issue, the kind of speech that gets more protection from suits under the state’s anti-SLAPP law.
You can’t really blame them for trying. The argument has worked before, like for a San Francisco radio show that got sued when its hosts insulted a contestant from the Who Wants to Marry A Multimillionaire TV show.
But the "Reality Bites" creators were not so lucky. Stating what seemed to be an obvious point, the Second District Court of Appeal concluded that “not all speech in a movie is of public significance.” More to the point, “the representation of Troy Dyer as a rebellious slacker is not a matter of public interest.”
Dyer has told the courts he would’ve sued sooner, but the statute of limitations passed him by — until the anniversary DVD opened up another window of opportunity.
Childress, meanwhile, has said Dyer gave her express permission to use his name, claiming it was an inside joke because he was really so straight-laced and conservative.
— Pam Smith