Clerks III and the geek legacy of Kevin Smith

It’s no secret that the film industry today is dominated by franchises. Familiar characters and storylines are seen more as a surefire bet to lure people to theaters in an increasingly tough market. Perhaps no one understands this better than Kevin Smith, whose film Clerk III hits theaters this month.

Despite being a relic from another era, Smith has repeatedly drawn on his previous success over his long career, trying to establish the same familiarity with his quirky indie personas that one might have with the MCU. If the movie industry is now dominated by shared universes, it’s partly thanks to Smith, whose View Askewniverse not only helped pave the way for the MCU and DCEU by popularizing geek cred, but also created and maintained Kevin Smith’s legacy: friendly, engaging. , and relentlessly obsessed with pop culture.

An origin story worthy of a superhero

The writer-director burst into the industry in 1994 with the original Clerks, a black-and-white comedy based on his frustration with his dead-end job. Shot for a whopping $27,000 at the same store where he worked, the film starred Smith’s close friends Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson in the lead roles. Smith was part of a new wave of independent writers who inspired guys across the country that they too could be discovered by the revered Harvey Weinstein, pull in big box office numbers and see their work screened at Cannes. .

Fast forward to today and that formula, not to mention Weinstein himself, is pretty much extinct. Except for a few outliers like Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson, whose talents have defied industry logic, the allure of a big-name director is no longer what it once was.

Jay and Silent Bob stand by a wall in Clerks.

As his peers moved on to larger projects to satiate their bulging egos, Smith seemed ever more comfortable remaining within the mundane world he had already established. Clerks worked so well because of its smallness, both in scope and ambition. Dante (O’Halloran) and Randall (Anderson) were average guys in an average New Jersey town, working in an average convenience store, having average encounters with average customers.

The characters had long discussions about totally out-of-the-ordinary movies like star wars, because that’s what most people would do. So when Smith’s budgets increased after Clerks, and the stars became more recognizable, and his storylines became more ambitious, it always felt at odds with his best qualities.

Two men stand in a convenience store in Clerks.

He had to know that too, because he would continue to put the same things in all of his movies, even as he became more respected in the industry. If the story has become that of the loafers in a shopping center (Mallrats)fall in love with lesbians (Chasing Amy) or an existential conflict based on the Bible (Dogma), the general atmosphere was always the same. There were lengthy rants about pop culture, male blocks on women’s sex lives, and most importantly, characters that carried over from movie to movie.

In the spirit of the mega-franchises that Smith clearly idolized, he created the View Askewniverse, his own cinematic universe. There would always be a reference to someone from high school. Everyone knew Rick Derris. Everyone would go to the same quick stop for snacks. And everyone met the drug-dealing duo Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), whether they were a New York comic book artist or the real-life Angel of Death.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (1/12) Movie CLIP – Another Day at the Fast Stop (2001) HD

It was as if Smith just couldn’t let go of his initial success. His adoration for the authentic world he has recreated with Clerks maybe he was something real he could cling to as he entered the artificiality of Hollywood. The rude Jay and the wise Silent Bob became his own version of Batman and Robin, or Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. Stupid catchphrases like “Snoochie boochies” started popping up all over his movies.

And then in 2001, after Jay and Silent Bob strike back, which took the incessant references to past movies to a whole new level, resulting in something a non-Smith-head might struggle to understand, it seemed like he was finally ready to let go of the past, to stop the references and raise the ambition even further. 2004 Jersey girl, a big-budget romance starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, was the first to feature no previous characters or references, and it was a critical and commercial failure. And then in 2006, he did Clerks II.

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12 years after they were first seen at Quick Stop, Dante and Randall were now plying their trades at the fictional fast food joint Mooby’s – a little heavier, a little sadder, but with the same low level of emotional intelligence. Gone was the low-budget charm of the original, more exposed were the mediocre acting chops of the two leads. The humor was more raunchy and felt more gross in a more politically correct landscape. The cultural commentary was duller. That Dante had to choose between his tall, wealthy fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) and the gorgeous Becky (Rosario Dawson) sounded a lot like a ridiculous fantasy.

Two men stand in a fast food restaurant in Clerks 2.

And yet, for all its pale imitations of the original, there was still a touching undercurrent of aimless men in arrested development. Smith may have gone from a McJob to the Hollywood circuit, but he was still able to channel that past discontent, perhaps even frustration with his own creative stasis.

This stasis has not really disappeared. Smith lost popularity and critical acclaim with each successive film, even as he ventured outside his comfort zone. The industry largely ignored him and he turned to podcasting. Then in 2018, Smith suffered a massive heart attack. Along with major lifestyle changes, Smith returned to the View Askewniverse, first with Jay and Silent Bob reboot in 2019, and now with Clerks III. Smith realized, in the face of his own mortality, that he needed more time and closure with his most beloved designs. The resulting third entry is deeply sentimental, reminiscent of an earlier, simpler time, and is less a movie about Dante and Randall than about Clerks, and by extension, Smith himself.

A trilogy with a melancholic ending

Now owners of the Quick Stop, 50-year-olds Dante and Randall are back like they were never gone, with their familiar dynamics and shenanigans, until Randall suffers a heart attack. Confronted with his own mortality, Randall decides to stop being a passenger in his own life and make a movie about his life at the Quick Stop.

Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Alexander stand behind a counter in Clerks III.

The meta-ness doesn’t stop there. Peppered among boomer-tastic pop culture references (NFT? Tinder dates?) is a reintroduction of nearly every character from the Clerks franchise. It then becomes clear that the film within the film is the original Clerks, beat for beat. Not only that, but the production debacles that Dante and Randall face while making their movie are the exact challenges that Smith faced as a first-time independent.

In this oversaturated market of sequels and constant reboots, one question nags at some moviegoers: how much fan service do we really need? Smith laughs in the face of that question, making a movie entirely out of fan service, callbacks, and behind-the-scenes Easter eggs. For those who are in theaters to see Clerk III or having followed Kevin Smith’s career, anything else would be a disappointment.

You’re there to hear Dante moan, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” You’re here to scream “Snoochie Boochies!” when Jay appears on screen, like you’re yelling “Luke, I’m your father” or “Mr. Stark, I’m not feeling very well. You’re there to reward yourself for staying in the universe so long from Smith, because you’re here to let Smith know that there are people who still care about his work and bring back the indie landscape of 1990s cinema with a deep fondness.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith look at the camera in a scene from Clerks III.

The sadness is much more in the foreground than with the previous one Clerks movies. We learn that Dante is still mourning the loss of his fiancée (Dawson), who was hit by a drunk driver, killing her and the baby inside her. His ghost constantly tells him to get on with his life, but he doesn’t seem able to. He can’t forget that he once had a bright future, much like Smith, who was once touted as one of America’s next great filmmakers.

It’s easy to wonder if Smith is considering the trajectory of his own career, his inability to move on from previous successes and previous moments in his life. And despite much of the film’s awkwardness, unabashed self-reference, and disconnected humor, it seems Smith really does allow himself the glory of basking in the past once more, before a development late in the plot doesn’t really mean it’s really the end of the Clerks story.

The next generation?

When clips from Randall’s films are shown, they are literally scenes from the first film. It’s a bit of magical realism to look at the Dante and Randall of thirty years ago and pretend they’re the same age as they are now, but it’s a captivating bit of cinematic magic. The two men, so frustrated with their stagnant lives, look at their greatest creation and realize that they have accomplished something worthwhile in their lifetime. And with that, they can go on quietly.

With Clerks III, Smith has written the final chapter of the greatest story of his life. It can be deeply difficult for him, and his most dedicated fans, to let go, but even Smith may be able to realize that sometimes there’s nothing left to say. As Captain Kirk before him, he knows it’s time for a new generation to fully take the lead in pop culture.

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