Maybe more than any other filmmaker working today, Kevin Smith is a generational director. I think you had to come of age at a certain time to understand his comedic sensibility, to really get his brand of self-deprecating post-collegiate juvenility. It’s almost ironic, in fact, that most critics around my age have little tolerance for the current ilk of sophomoric humor pervading Hollywood — which relies largely on different variations of homoerotic taunts and “yo mama” jokes — yet Kevin Smith remains the exception to the rule. Not, perhaps, because the stink palm or inadvertent necrophilia is that much funnier than You, Me and Dupree or Grandma’s Boy, but because Smith actually sticks his puerility to some real-life substance, like the banality of a minimum-wage job, the illogic of religious doctrine, or even a lesbian suffering from a sexual identity crisis.
But more than that, Clerks gave Kevin Smith some fucking cachet. For a lot of folks who were between the ages of 18 and 24 in 1995, Smith’s debut effort was our first real introduction to the kind of low-budget independent fare that actually spoke to people our age. My Left Foot or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover may have been decent films, but what the hell did they have to do with us? Kevin Smith, on the other hand, transformed our late-night drunken conversations, our overgeeked celebration of pop culture, and our sexual insecurities into films that not only appealed to us but, in a way, made us feel cool, because his characters were speaking our goddamn language — and the fact that 90 percent of America didn’t understand it just made it that much more appealing. It was revelatory, a cinematic epiphany and, arguably, without Clerks, websites like ours would never exist.
Of course, Smith followed up Clerks with the sorely underrated Mallrats, which slightly overshot the mark, relying too heavily on the puerile, and then Chasing Amy, which undershot, dismissing much of his jejunity in favor of heavy-handedness. Dogma, aside from a ridiculously contrived and over-long conclusion, did, at times, manage to fully recapture the Smithian magic, while Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was one extended, hit-and-miss in-joke with View Askew fans, but the hilariously meta wink scene between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon easily made up for the rest of the film’s failures.
And then there was Jersey Girl, Smith’s godawful, misguided attempt to leave Jay and Silent Bob behind, which wouldn’t have had a chance even if Gigli had not doomed it months before its release. But in a way, I think Smith needed a film like Jersey Girl to really illustrate the importance of Jason Mewes to his success — he is the Willie Aames to Smith’s Scott Baio — and remind Smith of what it was about his films that we loved. Moreover, even where all the other elements of a successful film were there, it was Mewes’ unhinged, meth-fueled kinetic energy that really sold it, just so long as he was relegated to a scene-stealing subplot and not given enough screen time to push us to the brink of annoyance.
I could write about Kevin Smith and his contributions to both film history and the careers of Mewes, Affleck, and Jason Lee for another 2,000 words, and I no doubt would, if not for the need to review Clerks II. And what of the sequel? Well, to put it in terms a Kevin Smith fan might readily understand, the original Clerks was the equivalent of a cinematic cherry-popping. It was ugly, awkward, a bit uncomfortable, and at times tried a little too hard, but it felt so goddamn good that you could overlook its imperfections. Clerks II, on the other hand, feels more like your 10th time: The thrusting is more rhythmic, it’s more artistically adept, prettier, more fluid and self-aware, and very nearly as amusing as the original, but the allure and mystery is gone; that overriding sense of discovery is lost. But, really, 10th time or first: you’re still getting laid and, while the lust may have faded a bit, adoration and affection have sprung in its place.
Clerks II picks up about 10 years after that night in the Quick Stop that should’ve set into motion some change to the lives of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson). The convenience/video store has recently burned down, but nothing else has really changed: D & R are working at Mooby’s, a burger-flipping fast-food joint, and both are still struggling to make sense of their lives beyond their minimum-wage gigs. Dante is once again faced with a romantic struggle, though this time he is engaged to Clerks II’s version of Caitlin, Emma (Mrs. Smith), while his Veronica, Becky (Rosario Dawson), is working right under his nose. Randall is mostly the same, but even he is questioning his lot in life. And Jay and Silent Bob are back again, planted in front of Mooby’s after their return from rehab, where they both found God. They still sell weed, of course, but thanks to the Power of the Lord, they’re not smoking it — and Jay (Mewes) wears a beautiful “Got Christ” wife-beater that is nothing if not classy. It is also supposed to be Dante’s last day before he moves to Florida with Emma, where he will be taking over his soon-to-be father-in-law’s car wash.
But like any Kevin Smith flick, the plot points are almost irrelevant; it is the fast-talking, dense, vitriolic rants that we want, and Clerks II delivers in heady offensiveness. Again, nothing is sacred: Anne Frank, Helen Keller, unnaturally large clits, ass-to-mouth, pussy trolls, the semantics of racial slurs, pickle fucking, and — of course — interspecies erotica, which also doubles as the film’s crisis point. And in a way, I suppose, I can see how Joel Siegel might have walked out, but his umbrage comes from a place of misunderstanding — Kevin Smith films were not written for pun fuckers, after all, they were directed at those of us who find little sacrosanct after a few beers and in between commercial breaks.
But underneath the donkey shows, the Transformers blasphemy, and the Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars tirades, there is a Chasing Amy sweetness to Clerks II that Smith sought so unsuccessfully in Jersey Girl. There is so much subtext to the major players — and even the usual cameos — that it’s difficult not to fall for the film’s sugariness. For many of us, it is these people that represent the last decade of our lives, and — in that context — even Ben Affleck can be endearing again.
I know I’m not speaking for the majority of filmgoers, but I do think there is some kinship among many of us who think of Kevin Smith as our Grateful Dead — and my lack of objectivity might be troubling for those of you seeking “Scathing Reviews for Bitchy People.” But that scathe, and the reason many of you like it, derives in some small part from Kevin Smith and his work. And while Clerks may have been the best goddamn one-night-stand of our lives, Clerks II represents the morning after, when we find that we’re not so quick to chew our arms off and flee, because in the sober light of day, it may just be that we’ve fallen in love.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.Makin' Loooove, Like It Was Nothing at All ....
Film | July 21, 2006 | Comments ()