I am an unapologetic Kevin Smith fan. I say "unapologetic" because I hear so many people say they're fans of this or that Smith movie but not the other, and then they go into detail about what they didn't like about the unfavored film. This is all well and good – Dogma
is a radically different film from Clerks
and I can accept a person's reasons for liking one and not another. Behind those reasons, however, there's always the tacit distancing of one's self from the two camps of people who orbit Kevin Smith and his ViewAskewniverse: the rabid fanboy Smith lovers, and the rabid fanboy Smith haters. Smith is an active participant in the fan communities on the Internet, and his presence there has polarized a small but vocal group of message board denizens – lauding him on one side, and excoriating him on the other. Smith's satire of the situation in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
("Internet buzz" was a driving force of the plot) didn't do much to change the state of things. Nor does the director seem to have altered his own behavior, though at least he acknowledges his fascination with what some guy in the Midwest thinks about his movies. I've taken the long way around to get this, but what I'm trying to say is that I, too, would like to separate myself from a rabid fanboy camp of any kind. If I had to be lumped into one camp or the other, however, you could put me on the side of the Smith lovers. (I even liked Jersey Girl
. Deal with it.)
It was this love for Smith movies that prompted me to both join the Austin Film Society and show up at the Paramount Theatre box office on a Monday afternoon to pick up tickets to the advance screening of Clerks II
, with Smith in attendance. I'm happy to report that both the event and the film were worth the wait, the expense, and the trouble. I dug both the film and Smith's talk afterwards immensely, and if I have a regret it's that I actually followed the instructions on the ticket and brought neither my voice recorder nor camera for the Q&A.Clerks II
picks up ten (or so) years after the first film, with perennial slackers Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) moving on from the Quick Stop to Mooby's, the fictional fast-food joint first seen in Dogma
. Randal is still a foul-mouthed asshole with few compunctions and fewer ambitions, unless you count screwing with the head of everyone with whom he comes into contact as an ambition. Dante, while never having gotten his act together to move on from clerkdom, is nearing the eve of his wedding and departure from New Jersey for Florida. (In Kevin Smith movies, "Florida" is sort of a generic synonym for "escape." I can assure him it's not quite that
great.) Dante's bride Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach), while beautiful and rich, is the wrong sort of woman for Dante – a fact that escapes neither Randal nor Becky (Rosario Dawson), the store manager and Dante's erstwhile lover.
There's not much more to the plot than that, and even so it feels crammed with story when compared to Clerks
. Smith's recent movies have often felt like careening roller coasters, but Clerks II
is a return to the one-two punches of crescendoing dialogue and unpredictable actions that attracted so many moviegoers to the Askewniverse in the first place. Sure, the stakes have been raised considerably – offscreen sexual encounters with corpses have been replaced by onscreen dalliances with livestock – but trying to match Clerks
in that respect would have been as false a move as filming Clerks II
in the same crappy black-and-white film stock as the original. The director has moved on, as have the characters, and thankfully Smith doesn't try to recapture the lightning from that particular bottle.
I suppose one could willfully ignore the parallels between the screen lives of Smith's clerks and the life of Smith himself, but it would be a silly thing to do. During the Q&A (which lasted nearly as long as the film), he admitted that Clerks
was largely what he had to say about being in his twenties, and Clerks II
is a reflection of his feelings about being in his 30s. Much as Dante and Randal are still working from behind the counter, so too is Smith still making crass jokes and waxing lyrical about pop culture icons. (A several-minutes long verbal battle over the Star Wars
trilogy and how it compares to The Lord of the Rings
trilogy will be worth the price of admission to some.) For all their similarities to Clerks
, however, these days Smith's movies are populated with celebrity cameos (though not as many as expected), lush production values, and even musical numbers. Clearly things have changed since 1994. Clerks II
is Kevin Smith's way of bringing his original (and perhaps most memorable) characters into alignment with his own life, and by the film's end their lives are profoundly different yet strangely the same.
This entry is more commentary than review; how you enjoy Clerks II
will depend largely on how you liked the previous films. Askewniverse fans won't be disappointed, and the opinions of everyone else are largely irrelevant.