Movie Review: Clerks (1994)

Title: Clerks
Release Date: October 19, 1994
Director: Kevin Smith
Production Company: View Askew Productions

“You hate people”

“But I love gatherings. Isn’t it ironic? “

25 years ago I watched Clerks and thought it was very funny and clever movie.  I revisited this movie with some apprehension because in the intervening years I’ve found director Kevin Smith’s shtick to have become tiresome.  More than that though, there’s an entire breed of obnoxious internet dudebros who base their personality around Smith’s movies.  Could I really also like what they like?

Turns out, that’s a qualified yes.  There’s definitely some cringy homophobic  and racist dialogue in the movie.  But then again, the two lead characters who talk like this are not likable people.  There’s no requirement for protagonists of good stories to be likable and I don’t think they’re intended to be.  A lot of the humor in this movie also relies on shock value, and I’ve found that shock humor, at a maximum, can be funny once.  So parts of this movie don’t hold up if you know what’s coming.

The heart of this movie is an honest depiction of the soul-crushing nature of retail work, as well as the aimlessness of being a young adult.  Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran} is the clerk of a convenience store in a New Jersey suburb called in by his deadbeat boss to work on his day off.  Throughout the day he deals with the quirks of archetypal customers and various crises.  He’s visited throughout the day by Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), the misanthropic clerk of the adjacent video store who more often than not gets Dante in trouble.  But Randal is surprisingly observant about Dante’s self-inflicted problems.

At it’s best, Clerks work as a series of sketches about the weird things that can go on among staff and customers at retail stores, as well as the problems of figuring out who you are and what you want to do as a young adult. It’s lest successful when it tries to have an ongoing plot.  Throughout the day, Dante is visited by his girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who is inexplicably committed to him even though he pines for ex-girlfriend from high school, Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer).  Caitlin arrives partly through the film and is also really into Dante for some reason, although he’s done nothing to deserve either of these women.

Sprinkled throughout the movie are the drug dealers who work outside the store Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).  These two would go on to be key parts of the View Askewniverse films that would follow Clerks, but here they’re just part of the atmosphere which is how I think the work best.  I watched Smith’s subsequent films with diminishing returns until I eventually gave up, and it seems I’m not the only one since he’s faded from prominence. Did you know that a Clerks III was released this year?  I found that out when researching for this review, but the movie’s release went completely under my radar.

But for all that Clerks is a good movie for Smith to have on his resume.  The lack of professional actors (many roles were played by Smith’s family and friends) is a strength of this film lending it an authenticity of everyday small town New Jersey life. It’s also an iconic movie of the 1990s.  It makes less sense to make 1990s movies after the decade ended which may be why Smith hasn’t made another film as good as this one.

Rating: ***1/2