#180 Clerks

(1994, Kevin Smith)

“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

Slackers! A key aspect of nineties American pop culture. An entire subculture emerging from the grunge scene. Directors were quick to represent this subculture in numerous cult hits about people in their late teens and early-to-mid-twenties with no direction, working terrible jobs and generally pondering what the hell they’re going to do with their lives.

Kevin Smith was one of the key figures in this movement, and it was this film that marked one of the major representations of the slacker scene, and one of its biggest hits. Clerks is about Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran), a self-depreciating convenience store employee who’s called in on his day off. The film follows Dante on this one day as he gets visited by his friend, Randal (Jeff Anderson), ducking out of work at the video rental shop next door, and his girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) while trying to deal with his inability to get over his ex, Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer).

Clerks is a very unconventional film in its execution. Basically a slice-of-life piece, there isn’t much of a plot to speak with, so the entire movie revolves around character interaction and jokes. This actually works in the film’s favour, since the movie seems to be more concerned with representing how soul-crushing it can be to work a customer service job such as this than telling an actual story. By making the “story” move along only when the clock does, it feels like a pretty accurate representation of how a shift in a place like this can feel.

As someone who has worked in customer service jobs, I can safely say I’ve identified far too well with Dante’s exasperation over some of his bizarre customers. While they’re all certainly exaggerations, Dante’s world-weary frustration with them all feels very real. It’s also hilarious to watch a man break down as he attempts to find the perfect carton of eggs or watch a small anti-smoking cult form thanks to one man harassing other customers.

The movie is very low-budget, and it shows. At times, the movie can feel like a student project with the cast made up of friends and family (which was pretty much the case, to be fair), but this is another thing that strangely helps the film. By feeling so much like something shot in between shifts at a real convenience store, it almost feels like a documentary set in a strange alternate universe, and this helps us identify with the cast that little bit more.

Not that the cast are bad. In fact, for a group of amateur actors, they’re actually very good. Dante always feels suitably cynical, Randal is a strangely wise slacker with a wry sense of humour and Veronica is a surprisingly patient and thoughtful character whose outburst late in the movie is a lot of fun to watch. In fact, I genuinely have no complaints with the acting, which is very impressive.

I do have some minor complaints with Clerks though. The first is the soundtrack. While I understand it’s appropriate for the slacker aesthetic of the film, since it’s music the characters would be likely to listen to, I simply couldn’t stand it. Quite often it felt like it was too in-your-face and obnoxious, and it seemed to run on much longer than necessary. This is more a personal preference than anything else though.

I also couldn’t accept Dante’s inability to get over Caitlin as a plot point. When the actual character appears, she comes across as an incredibly unlikeable person, especially when compared to the much nicer Veronica, and it was a little hard to identify with Dante’s crisis here.

Then again, perhaps this was the point. Dante isn’t exactly presented as the nicest person in the world, and this could all be part of it. In fact, it’s pretty much central to the entire movie that Dante is a lazy bum who gets angry at everyone else for his lot in life but fails to do anything to improve things for himself. He’s a guy who’s notorious for making bad decisions so perhaps this was deliberate.

I did enjoy Clerks overall, although it’s incredibly difficult to review. Let’s just say that it set out to be a funny movie about two guys loitering around a convenience store all day, and it succeeds admirably.

Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith
Written by Kevin Smith
Produced by Scott Mosier & Kevin Smith
Cinematography by David Klein
Edited by Scott Mosier & Kevin Smith

Favourite Scene: The anti-smoking campaigner essentially starting his own cult in the store. So completely ridiculous but highly entertaining.
Scene That Bugged Me: Anytime Dante pined for his ex-girlfriend, I wanted to reach into the screen and punch him.

Watch it if: You’re a slacker or a Buzzfeed writer
Avoid it if: You’re a terrible customer

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Posted on April 30, 2013, in 1990s, Comedy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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