July 23 2006

Clerks II

I just got back from Kevin Smith’s latest film, Clerks II. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Smith, well, he’s not for everyone. His films are filled with pop-culture references, gutter humor that would make a sailor blush, and a geek sensibility that will just be beyond most people.

His first film was the original Clerks, released in October of 1994. He made it for $27,000, cast his friends, and shot it at night in the convenience store he worked in. I saw it for the first time in the summer of 1995 and it spoke to me in so many ways because I had already been working retail for years and years. We fondly referred to it at work as “the training film” for new employees. You would encounter the customers who made no sense, like “the mild maid”. A woman who would go through each gallon of milk, thinking the mystical jug with expiration date weeks away resided in the back of the case. The film was still considered a success because it went to gross $3,151,130 domestically.

Smith has went on to even bigger success with Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and his mis-step was Jersey Girl. During all this time, he was asked about doing a Clerks II, but he kept saying he didn’t think it would happen. It was when he was working on the 10th Anniversary Edition of the movie for DVD, he realized he did have more things he wanted to say with his original characters. So he sat down and wrote a movie that seems to be a normal Kevin Smith letter on one level, and on another, the first truly mature film of an all new filmmaker.

Smith peppered the film with just enough of his old school tricks to keep his rabid fan base satisfied, but at the same time he told the tale of what will become of his fans in their mid-30’s if they don’t wizen up. The first film dealt with Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) being 20-something slackers, stuck in dead-end jobs. You were left debating if Dante was getting nowhere in life due to circumstances, himself or listening to the messed up advice of Randal.

Clerks II picks up 10 years after the first with the Quick Stop store burning down, leaving Dante and Randal without jobs. They then go to work at the Mooby’s fast food chain (if you’ve seen the other movies, you get the joke), and after a year of slinging fries, Dante has met the girl he wants to marry, Emma (played by Kevin Smith’s real life wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) and they’re moving to Florida the next day where Emma’s parents will give them a house and Dante will have a car wash to manage. All this is complicated by the fact a few weeks previous, Dante had a night of drunken sex with his manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson) which leads to other problems. I don’t want to spoil the entire movie for anyone who wants to see it, but it is well worth seeing, but don’t go expecting to see your typical Kevin Smith film.

This is a film about what happens to those 20-something slackers if they never snap out of it. How do you make your mark in this world if you wake up one morning and realize you are in your 30’s and done nothing of substance with your life? Do you do what is expected of you, get married, become a responsible adult, and do things that don’t make you happy? Or will you realize everyone leaves their mark in their own, special and unique way? Just because you haven’t lived up to the normal standards of society doesn’t mean you are a failure.

Dante is really the same person he was in Clerks, still lost, still being told what to do by his girlfriends, and still trying to grow a backbone of his own. Randal is the one who has changed. He still acts like the same idiot he was in the first one, but when you scratch the surface, you find a lost guy too afraid to break free of his comfort zone. In one of the most poignant scenes (yes, a poignant scene in a Smith film), after a confrontation with someone they went to high school with, Randal wants to borrow Dante’s car and leave for a little while. Dante chases after him and goes with him on this unknown errand. When we next see them, they are driving go-karts, set to music, smiling and laughing like the old Dante and Randal we know. This scene seemed so out of place at first, but as it went on, it started to get you in the gut, these guys are lost. They don’t know what to do and they retreat to a simpler time for comfort. The next scene where they are driving back to work, it’s almost as if Smith sensed his audience wouldn’t get what the scene was about, so he spelled it out for everyone, this is what “centers” Randal, what calms him down.

The movie is 94 minutes long, and honestly, I could rave about it for twice that long. This is a film made by a maturing filmmaker who has reevaluated his life and reset his priorities. He wants to say to his entire rabid fan base, “It’s not too late, it’s never too late! Grab life and do with it what you will, but don’t be afraid of it!” It is a movie written by a middle-aged man with a middle-aged man’s sensibilities, voice and experience. It should be required viewing by all Gen Xers who still carry that chip on their shoulder that the world doesn’t understand them. They’re right, the world doesn’t understand them, but you pick-up, carry-on and get out of the world what you put in to it. And you also don’t let the “milk maids” get you down. And a tip of the hat to Smith for bringing back the original milk maid to once again look for that magical gallon in the back of the cooler.

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