So I’ve been working on clearing out my Netflix watch list (an arduous task, to be sure), when I noticed this title had been sitting dormant for quite a while.
In many ways, Clerks is the little movie that could. Produced on a shoestring budget by a bunch of no-names, the very clerks whose lives they desired to portray, Clerks would go on to make more than 100 times its incredibly modest budget. It garnered a massive cult following, and launched the multi-media career of current D-list celebrity, Bat-fan, A-list podcaster, and occasional filmmaker Kevin Smith, along with his so-called “View Askewniverse,” including such critically lauded films as Chasing Amy and such reviled films as Mallrats and Jersey Girl.
Clerks itself, however, is a bit of a special case. Its difficult to judge on its own. It has good rapid-fire dialogue, certainly, and works as a “slice of life.” The performances are good, nothing special, but nothing bad, either. Clerks works mostly due to the relatability of the situations presented within. Dante is a fine protagonist, and his quick-speaking buddy Randall is a great foil. The humor is vulgar, but quite clever at times. The pacing is unusual, to say the least, with bizarre breaks in the narrative, and an abrupt ending. Kevin Smith himself said the ending is the way it is because he didn’t know how to end a film. An alternate ending is even more bizarre, with Dante shot by a shoplifter.
The film centers around a day in the life of middle-class Dante, a convenience store clerk called in on his day off (a fact he likes to constantly bring up with the phrase “I’m not even supposed to be here today” uttered almost constantly). He has various misadventures, dealing with a messed-up love life, an even more slackerish friend, two drug-dealing miscreants, a wake, a cut-short hockey game, and a host of unruly customers. A lot seems to transpire within a single day, and yet very little accomplished.
The pros: Solid writing, casting, acting. Dante and Randall’s musings on 80s pop culture are endlessly relatable, the stuff of modern podcasts and internet message boards. Jay and Silent Bob don’t really shine as a comic duo in this film, but they do their task, with Silent Bob fulfilling the “plot prophet” role, and knocking some much needed sense into Dante. Randall is endlessly entertaining, easily the most engaging character on screen, and Dante’s relationships keep the central plot interesting.
The cons: Said plot. The film is loosely plotted, with the majority of the film spent on musings and non sequiturs. The direction is forgivably amateurish, and the line delivery by bit players (such as the customers) is iffy at best. The bizarre “Russian cousin in a metal band” scene is both bizarre and unnecessary. The fight choreography is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, nothing about it is believable, at all.
However, I’d say in this case that the good outweighs the bad by a small margin. Clerks is endlessly watchable and pleasantly entertaining. It all adds up to a pleasantly diverting film. A solid B+.