Reality Movie Review: A Tiring 83 Minute Movie

Review: While certainly thought provoking and original, Reality succumbs to odd stylistic choices and a rather uninteresting approach. Sydney Sweeney stars, and struggles to shed the glamour she’s built the last few years.

reality sydney sweeney movie 2023 review
Sydney Sweeney, Reality

Reality is the medium-shifting, genre-bending debut from writer and director Tina Satter, who’s teaming up with national icon and superstar actress Sydney Sweeney. Sweeney’s rise to fame has been largely in part to several HBO prestige television series at this point, mainly Euphoria and The White Lotus, and it seems that she’s using a role like this in an attempt to downplay and pivot off of her glamorous, sex symbol persona that she’s built for herself so far.

The movie strays a bit from general filmmaking conventions due to the storytelling devices and script, which is pulled verbatim from the interrogation transcripts made available after Reality Winner’s arrest in 2017. I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie reenact real events in a way like this before, and that initially was the reason I felt obligated to check it out and see what the results were. Not to mention that Reality was also released alongside HBO Max’s transition as a streaming service and starred one of Hollywood’s brightest young risers.

Reality works as an occasionally insightful and direct rendition of the events that landed the title character in prison for leaking federal documents about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, but it struggles to justify its own existence, or even break out of the play-like structure that the script is written from. The movie instead comes off just as a way to manage and pivot Sidney Sweeney’s own image, but even that angle of the film feels dull given her past history of downplaying her family’s right-wing political beliefs.

That’s not to say that Reality is unilaterally bad. There are a few performances and filmmaking decisions that I felt were thoughtful and sometimes provoking – like the nice-guy routine of Agent Garrick (Josh Hamilton) that works in correspondence with Agent Taylor’s (Marchánt Davis) hardnose demeanor, or a few of the sets that truly cement this movie into the hodgepodge history of plays-turned-movies. Seriously, they spend about 20-30 minutes in a downstairs cellar that is painstakingly beige from ceiling to floor.

It’s a testament to the script that this was even filmable given how unremarkable some of the filmmaking goes to great lengths to be – at times it feels like the equivalent of watching legislation get passed on CSPAN. I watched Reality late at night and found myself combating sleep at an alarming rate; this movie is boring! And yet, it feels almost intentionally so. As if the theme is that cases like these aren’t fascinating or pretty, but they sure are important and can cost people years of their own lives.

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But how important is it to turn it into a movie? Still not sure, especially given that it works incredibly hard to downplay Sidney Sweeney’s prestige television persona and aforementioned familial ties. If that’s the mission with Reality, it doesn’t really work because Sweeney feels miscast and out of place throughout. You’re stuck watching Sidney Sweeney play the character rather than just the character, and so it never gets beyond that big, misguided element.

And I’m not sure I’ve seen many movies before with the intention being to try to make the star less famous or less glamorous. I get it’s tough to continue to hit on a string of TV series like Euphoria and The White Lotus, but Sweeney is purposefully trying to reposition to roles beyond solid genre movies like Under the Silver Lake and The Voyeurs – both of which are significantly better and more interesting than Reality.

And so, while Reality isn’t ostensibly bad, it certainly is forgettable – a film that seems already buried in the endless stream of Max movies, which is notable considering Reality dropped alongside the transition from HBO Max to just Max. It may have just been a shoehorned reason to market the movie more and post it on homepages for a few days before the service resets their decks moving forward, but it doesn’t do much more beyond that.


Genre: Drama

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Reality Movie (2023) Cast and Credits

reality movie 2023


Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner

Josh Hamilton as Agent Garrick

Marchánt Davis as Agent Taylor


Director: Tina Satter

Writer: James Paul Dallas, Tina Satter

Cinematography: Paul Yee

Editor: Jennifer VecchiarelloRon Dulin

Composer: Nathan Micay

Reviews for Films like Reality