Friday, September 2, 2016

Profane Dialogue Can Only Go So Far For Clerks

With Kevin Smith's newest film, Yoga Hosers, bowing in theaters today (hopefully I'll have a review for that 2016 motion picture up by the end of the weekend), I thought it was high time I dug into the motion picture that kicked off the directing career of Mr. Smith, a 1994 film called Clerks that bowed at that year's Sundance Film Festival and became a cult classic in no time. Living up to its title, Clerks focuses on a day in the life of two clerks, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), the former working at a convenience store and the latter spending his days at a video rental store.

Clerks feels reminiscent of Richard Linklater movies like Dazed & Confused in that it concentrates its story on normal individuals going through the motions on an equally normal day. Also like Dazed And Confused, it utilizes the common storytelling device of setting its story entirely in the span of a single day. But if Linklater's fantastic motion pictures like Boyhood to uncover new facets of the characters in his stories, as a way to reveal how, just like in real life, people are more complex than they appear to be. Even the High School kids that seemingly just want to party and get laid in Dazed And Confused have petrifying anxieties about where they'll go once High School is over.

That's, of course, not the only aspect of Linklater's movies that make them exceptional (Far from it), but it's that specific quality that stuck in my mind as I tried to grapple with why Clerks was coming across to me as a mixed bag. According to people on my Facebook feed who have notable experience in the world of actually being in the titular occupation, its depiction of what it's like to actually be a clerk is true-to-life, which is nice, but I wish there was more going on underneath the surface from a character level with our two leads or that the plot would utilize their lack of depth in a clever way.

Instead, Clerks just provides a series of interactions between two tepid individuals, with the particularly obnoxious Randal being a grating creation lacking even the "I should take control of my life!" epiphany that the perpetually whiny Dante receives that somewhat salvages that convenience store clerk character. Honestly, if the duo's banter was funnier, I'd probably be willing to forgive the rote characterization in the two leads, but most of their dialogue consists of sexually profane dialogue and occasional pop culture references that were probably as cutting-edge as radical skateboard tricks and M.C. Hammer pants in the early 90's but more often than not just feel grating in the year 2016.

I've raked the script of Clerks over the coals a bit in this review, but I should mention that there's still a number of bits of comedy that are enjoyable here, particularly in an extended conversation about the Death Star and the morality of blowing up the innocent contract workers that were building the Second Death Star. It's also nice that Clerks holds Dante in understandable contempt for his attempts at cheating on his girlfriend Veronica in the climax of the movie, which is probably the strongest portion of the movie since it does an admirable job of tying various loose plot threads together in a satisfying fashion.

Considering this movie was made for $27,575, I'm willing to give some of the more lackluster technical aspects a mild pass, though I would like to note that there's some super jarring editing in this movie that undercuts some humor and even just basic dialogue. Why did the camera just cut to a shot of people's shoes while Jay And Silent Bob are introducing a lady to a Russian musician? No clue and such an odd editing choice really proves to be a distraction in these restrained dialogue heavy sequences. But even that sort of editing faux pas is nowhere near as big of an issue as the lackluster screenplay for Clerks that isn't nearly funny enough to compensate for its dire lack of narrative innovation or depth.

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