Film Review: Clerks (1994)

Also known as: Inconvenience, Rude Clerks (working title)
Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Music by: Benjie Gordon (music supervisor)
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Walt Flanagan, Joey Lauren Adams (voice)

View Askew Productions, Miramax Films, 92 Minutes, 87 Minutes (TV cut), 102 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” – Randal Graves

I’m that asshole that doesn’t love Clerks.

Yes, I do like Kevin Smith’s older work and I do appreciate this film and what it led to for Smith and his characters. However, out of the Viewaskewniverse stuff, this is my least favorite chapter. Still, it opened the door into a world that I came to love and it serves as a sort of prototype to what would become the norm for Kevin Smith, at least for a half dozen of his films.

I think that my biggest problem with the film is that Dante is such a fucking whiner. I like Brian O’Halloran but his Dante character is such a tense ball of angsty shit that it is extremely hard to give a shit about his shitty day. Jeff Anderson’s Randal is a total dick but at least he’s amusing and he isn’t a basket case like Dante.

What does make the film work though, is the chemistry of Dante and Randal. Neither are likable but their banter is funny and amusing, even if it does sound overly manufactured and they don’t talk like real people. But that was a trope of ’90s Gen-X slacker movies: characters that talk super witty, super sarcastic and think that everything sucks while somehow espousing some sort of nonsensical philosophy with every breath. In fact, one review of the film said, “…a script so full of words that it probably rivals the telephone book in size.” I can’t argue against that.

The film also only works as an absurdist comedy. There are too many scenes that just seem to be completely outside of reality. While everything in this film could happen, there is just too much weird shit going on for this to actually all happen in a single day. And the plot doesn’t seem to matter, as it is just scene after scene of random, strange things happening.

Now it may sound like I am harping on the film but I’m really not. I like the weird bits but it’s kind of unclear if the film is supposed to be absurdist or realistic. And you can’t really find that answer by comparing it to Smith’s other Viewaskewniverse films because they all have a different tone. Personally, I have to view this as an absurdist, almost surreal comedy.

I’m sure that a lot of these ideas came from Smith’s experience working Dante’s job at the same store in real life. And because of that, the film does capture a sense of realism in its critique of menial retail jobs. I’ve worked these jobs too but I wasn’t as much of a crybaby as Dante or as much of a dick as Randal. Although, I was pretty sarcastic and hated the sight of customers.

But that’s what makes this a hard film to process for me. There is a bit of realism and a lot of absurdism. The opening scene with the gum sales rep trying to create an in-store uprising just to sell more gum is ridiculous. I would’ve tossed that guy out on his ass in two seconds. Some of these characters just don’t act like real people. Okay, most of these characters.

Although, this was probably the most authentic version of Jay & Silent Bob ever captured on film.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Ther other films set within Kevin Smith’s Viewaskewniverse titles: MallratsChasing AmyDogmaJay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II. Also, the Clerks animated series.

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