Sunday, October 16, 2011

Clerks: Kevin Smith's Overrated Flick

The Good: Story, Writing, Characters, Protagonist acting
The Bad: Much of the acting, Character hypocrisy, Pointless moments
The Basics: Despite problems with characters and acting, Clerks is a solid story about two men attempting to survive their pathetic lives.

It seems like forever since I first saw Clerks, Kevin Smith's first film. I saw it after seeing other Kevin Smith films, most notably Dogma (reviewed here!). As much as I like the works of Kevin Smith, I think he lucked out with the success of his first film. In the DVD notes for Chasing Amy, Smith notes that Clerks was over-praised and Mallrats was over-criticized. I agree with Smith on Clerks being praised more than it deserved.

This film focuses on the lives of Dante and Randal, one a clerk at a convenience store, the latter a worker at a video rental store. Neither does much in the way of work and neither seems terribly happy in the almost twenty hours we see them. Dante, working at the Quick Stop, is feeling disenchanted with his life and work and spends much of the film oscillating in opinion between the woman who loves him (Veronica) and the one who left him quite some time ago (Caitlin). He is loved and respected by Veronica, yet feels a great deal of desire for Caitlin, despite the fact that she has hurt him in the past. Randal is a slacker and enjoys his ability to vent his frustrations and anxieties on his customers. He also uses his fairly mindless job to ponder things he finds more important (for example, the loss of independent contractors building the Death Star in Return Of The Jedi).

In the course of a Saturday, the pair goes through various adventures, including playing hockey on the roof of the store, a confrontation (or two) with a dead body, and an unruly gum salesman. But what the film truly focuses on is the continual dialog between Dante and Randal as they evaluate their lot in life, their pasts and their goals for the future.

It's a good movie. It does more than most films these days do, which is that it creates wonderful, identifiable characters who have personality and individuality. Dante is wonderfully miserable as he laments his lot in life and Randal is the perfect partner to psychoanalyze him. But it is wonderful to see a film where two people talk. They talk with one another and they listen and the grainy black and white photography is not pretentious and it works because the bulk of the film is not what is going on in the visual medium but rather in the dialog that goes on between the two protagonists.

Unfortunately, Dante and Randal are the only two who are portrayed by decent actors. Brian O'Halloran brings Dante to life with wonderful subtlety and depth. Jeff Anderson works perfectly fleshing out Randal from a well-written character into a well-developed character.

The rest of the film is populated by a cast of actors and actresses that either are not talented or are not working at their best. When I rewatched the film today, I had the impression that the movie was done in a single take. The film is populated by actors who seem to be having difficulty speaking like normal human beings. And it is distracting.

The plot is solid, but the discrepancies in character are disturbing. Take Dante. He's an interesting character, but his disgust over Katelyn's cheating and what he sees as Veronica's promiscuity is countered by his inability to recognize that he is doing the same types of things that disgust him. It takes Randal to point out his hypocrisies and Dante seems metaconscious enough to have recognized these things on his own. Some of it is not the fault of the actors; Jay has a wonderful scene that was trimmed sufficiently as to have severely less impact. Jason Mewes actually does a fine job acting in the trimmed scenes (available on the DVD) but it seems pointless the way it is in the final version.

The only other detraction from the film is a series of pointless episodes in the movie. For example, much time is wasted with Jay dancing outside the Quick Stop. It seems to serve no purpose other than to bring the film up to 90 minutes.

But there is much to recommend the film. Anyone who has ever had a job they hate will enjoy watching Randal and Dante as they take on the customers and each other. It's a good film. It is a fun film and it has quite a bit going on under the surface. It is accessible for anyone who has ever had a grudge against anyone else, especially at work.

For other workplace comedies, please visit my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses
Office Space
Waiting . . .


For other films reviews, please check out my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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