Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Thoughts on Clerks II (SPOILERS included)

To many people my age or slightly older, "Clerks" was a film that spoke to our need to make decisions about our life, while also simultaneously indulging us in flithy humor. When news that writer-director Kevin Smith was filming a sequel, my curiousity was piqued. The anticipation only intensified when it was disclosed that a screening of the film at The Cannes Film Festival earned an eight-minute standing ovation. After reading several reviews, perhaps too many, on Clerks II, I finally took in an early afternoon showing today.

I found the film to be, in parts, very funny, very poignant, a bit too nostalgic, and needlessly nasty. The depth given to the character of Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) was well-appreciated. Aside from having the funniest scene in the film (a defense of Star Wars vs. The Lord of the Rings), Randal is allowed to express heartbreak at the possibility of losing his best friend. (The temporary relief Randal finds in a mid-film go-carting sequence is handled well.) Also turning in a strong showing is Brian O'Halloran, reprising his role of Dante Hicks. O'Halloran expertly conveys the frustration that Dante feels at trying to take a major step forward in his life, while simultaneously straining to appease everyone he cares about. Rosario Dawson brings sex appeal, sassiness, liveliness, and humility to the role of Becky Scott, Dante and Randal's boss, and Trevor Fehrman plays the naivete of the teenaged devout Christian/virgin/Lord of the Rings enthusiast Elias Grover for all the comic gold that can be mined from it.

A special commendation should be given to Smith for a gutsy scene involving Randal's use of the term "Porch Monkey" in front of black customers. When a white writer handles race, the results can be mealy-mouthed at best and cringe-inducing at worst. Presumably learning from the clumsy handling of race in the deleted barroom dozens scene from "Dogma," Smith, aside from a rather restrained reaction from Becky, lets the situation unfold the way it probably would in real-life. Smith effectively finds a way to make what are, in my view, his points (i.e., that most racist terms are learned from loved ones and that just because a term is not offensive to you does not mean that many people are not justifably offended) to his audience without being preachy.

Despite all of the positives, however, one cannot help but agree with many reviewers who say that "Clerks II" is a lateral move from a director recovering from two artistic and/or commercial bombs ("Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and "Jersey Girl"), the latter of which was, to be fair, effected by circumstances that were beyond the filmmaker's control. To put it more bluntly, the film feels unnecessary. The forced nature of the film's existence is found in the fact that, even though you know it is a film, you are forced to ask yourself questions that you did not ask yourself during the first film (How could any convenience store worker make a transition to the fast food industry? How could a fast food restaurant allow two drug dealers to loiter outside? How could the business at a fast food restaurant be as slow as the business is at Mooby's for most of the movie? How does someone who looks and talks like Rosario Dawson work at a fast food restaurant, even as a manager?).

Furthermore, it seems as though Smith is trying way too hard to outdo himself with regards to shock value. Jay (Jason Mewes) has a Buffalo Bill, tuck-it-in moment, and, in an especially nasty moment, Smith seems to wallow in the depiction of an "interspecies" sexual encounter (don't ask). (To support this view, it was recently reported that Smith was disappointed when the Motion Picture Association of America DIDN'T slap his film with an NC-17, thereby denying him the extra, free publicity desired by an artist attempting a comeback.) Also, it should be said that Jennifer Schwalbach-Smith, Smith's wife, is absolutely atrocious as Dante's fiancee. Thankfully, she is given few lines, relatively speaking (neither pun intended). Finally, although it is good to see the guys display some sensitivity, some of the discussions in this movie (Dante's talk with Becky regarding the possibility of real love and portions of Randal's climatic speech to Dante) are a bit too sappy for their own good.

The best thing that I walked away from "Clerks II" with was the anticipation of what Kevin Smith's next movie will be. That movie will truly tell where his career is going.

Photo courtesy

Soundtrack: Helmet "Unsung"


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