Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Cinematographer: Dave Klein
by Jon Cvack
While camping and a bit indisposed my buddy said Kevin Smith films are propaganda, which started a decent conversation. The night ended and I found myself laughing about the point and its semblance of truth days later. On the one hand, Smith romanticizes the slacker lifestyle - hanging out at the mall, working at a Quick Stop (or in this case a Fast Food Restaurant) and it’s all fine and good so long as you’ve got a good buddy, some comic books, and enough dick, fart, tit, and pussy jokes to last you eight hours a day. I understand the logic, but then I think about how few other filmmakers are showing us this side of life. Judd Apatow eventually came into the mix and essentially picked up where Kevin Smith left off, with Smith referring to Apatow as going on to carry the torch, particularly after Zack and Miri Make a Porno bombed, both financially and even within Smith’s pantheon, where in one of his Q&As, he mentioned that he could no longer make those types of films because he was no longer a slacker. He was now rich with a nice house in Los Angeles, with a family and wife.
Smith has also professed, perhaps with false modesty, that he’s not all that talented. While I would disagree with him in terms of writing, I can see his point with production as his films aren’t very cinematic, and even Smith mentioned in the same Q&A how he has little knowledge of basic directing skills, such as lens selection. You can see this in his films - as the camera rarely does anything interesting, other than recording the characters talk. It’s what makes it all work. But ever since Jersey Girl, when Kevin Smith veered toward Slacker-Rom Com instead of Slacker-Pure (though I actually really enjoyed Jersey Girl, minus the extensive Ben Affleck crying scene), he has seemed to try and maintain the Slacker Rom Com formula, which is essentially what Clerks 2 is all about, showing off a more mature, though far less insightful man, who’s willing to sprinkle in sentiment between the fellatio jokes.
One of the most glaring mistakes that Clerks 2 makes is the incorporation of shitty new characters, with Elias (Trevor Fehrman) as a particularly strange casting decision. Given his long hair and fairly attractive look, I just couldn’t buy his awkward nerdom. Imagining the same lines delivered from a more classic Pretty in Pink Ducky-like nerd could have worked so much better. Even beyond his ill-image is the flat delivery and performance, where even playing drunk and high was not even mildly believable.
Then there’s the ongoing problem of putting an overweight, less than attractive male with one of the most beautiful women in the world, in this case Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and his relationship to the Fast Food Manager Becky Scott (Rosario Dawson). Dante has found a former prom-queen for his finance who’s a fairly hot cougar (I’m now discovering this is Kevin Smith’s wife, Jennifer playing Emma), who sees a person like Dante as someone that’s responsible and good and easily controllable. In one of many awkward scenes, while Dante paints Becky’s toenails, Becky talks about how girls like that never gave guys like Dante the time of day in high school, and then realize that guys like Dante are quite the catch - even though he’s not even a manager, but simply an employee at Mooby's Fast Food.
On top of that, Becky and Dante are clearly in love with one another, for reasons as illogical as running up the stairs when the killer enters the house in a slasher film. Dawson is so beautiful and flirts so well that it’s literally impossible for me to buy this love triangle, or any confusion on Dante’s part. It’s also one of the moments that made me agree with my friend’s point regarding propaganda. Watch a Kevin Smith film if you’re working a shitty job with little to no ambition and you too might get someone as hot as Rosario Dawson. It creates an unattainable dream scenario, completely unrealistic and unachievable. Go ahead and justify that it gives hope to the many slackers out there, sure, but a more believable alternative could have simply been a decent looking girl, not drop dead gorgeous woman, who’s similarly lost, trying to find herself, thus relating to Dante. Instead, we get to watch the grossly uninspired trope that Becky just doesn’t believe in love or anything, until she met Dante. You don’t even wonder - you don’t even imagine - you can’t even suspend a crumb of disbelief - that this will result in anything other than Dante and Becky getting together. It’s Rom Com 101, and further concretized as Kevin adds a bunch of overly sentimental songs to the heavier scenes by the likes of Alanis Morissette's “Everything” or Smashing Pumpkins “1979” (great song, but awkwardly placed). We even get the classic shot of the dude driving in his car, devastated that he messed things up so bad with the girl, as the maudlin pop music plays over.
Mallrats, Clerks, and Chasing Amy are incredible and important films. Kevin Smith served a significant role in portraying a side of life that many of us just would never have seen, and which new generations no longer get. In an age with over 5,000 independent films being made every year, I do not think Clerks would have achieved the success it has in today’s world. With production costs at an all time low for a fairly high minimum bar of success, there seems less and less of a place for people who simply want to tell a story with decent and unique characters. Kevin Smith’s strongest trait was never taking the material too seriously - something which he began to lose with Jersey Girl and continued on with periodic moments of horror. Without a doubt his earlier characters would have made fun of this film. Just like Jersey Girl’s crying Ben Affleck scene went on twice as long as it should have, the same thing occurs in Clerks 2, when Randal (Jeff Anderson) professes his love for Dante, except the scene keeps going and going, even to the point where Smith cuts into Jay and Silent Bob to provide a joke that buffers you out of the scene, only to return back to Randal, even more teary eyed, professing his love for Dante. I appreciated the gesture, but it was just far too heavy.
It seemed that while Kevin Smith had magnificent insight into the minds and concerns of 20 to 30-somethings who’re trying to figure themselves out, his thoughts on those who do figure it out and get together just isn’t all that interesting. It’s as boring as the lives his characters feared they’d fall into. Clerks 2 made me want to revisit Clerks and watch that raw need to express himself with all of the superficial concerns of an early 20-something. It’s no wonder that he would soon graduate to other genres - with Red State, Cop Out, and Tusk, and many other exciting productions around the corner. I also see Clerks 3 in pre-production. I hope he’s has gotten more insightful over the last decade. We will soon see.
BELOW: Your classic slow push in while the male lover interest watches the woman he's not yet aware he loves as she dances
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