Directed by: Kevin Smith
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Written by Patrick Hao
Kevin Smith is a divisive figure for me – one whose DIY approach to his career is inspirational but whose celebration of his own mediocrity comes off as smug and self-satisfied. Smith has been able to parlay his self-indulgence and zero growth as a filmmaker and voice into a cult following, one that I was happily part of until I grew beyond needing Kevin Smith. So it is interesting that Smith is going back to the well again, returning to the original film that afforded him the rest of his career. “Clerks III” is as indulgent and overly sentimental as ever before, which is fascinating as part of Smith’s oeuvre and his Peter Pan-esque refusal to mature in form and topic. Yet, I am still charmed by Smith in the way that it rustles the nostalgic feelings in me – like eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles that I know is dire to my health but satisfying in the way it evokes childhood memories.
Unlike his other films in the View Askewniverse, “Clerks”, as a series, has always been an indicator of where Smith is in his life. The original “Clerks” with its black and white low-budget film aesthetic was perfect for its Gen-X, MTV viewers. It was counter-culture and punk rock to make a film about culture-obsessed foul-mouthed clerks who were directionless. “Clerks II” disposes of that aesthetic and becomes kind of a mantra for the rest of Smith’s career. Randal and Dante, the Smith parallels in his “Clerks” films, are presented the opportunity to mature while simultaneously falling back on the safety net of QuikStop, the convenience store that they work in, because it makes them happy and ultimately comfortable. Smith seems to increasingly do this with his own films, with any pushback received on experimentation or form as an opportunity to retreat back to a more comfortable aesthetic.
“Clerks III” presents Smith with the opportunity to explore themes of his mortality, coming off of his heart attack in 2018. Dante and Randal (played by the returning Brian O’Hallaren and Jeff Anderson respectively), coming off of “Clerks II” now own the QuikStop, but still find themselves in the purgatory of working behind the counter doing the same things they were doing in 1994. Dante’s love interest from “Clerks II”, Becky, played by Rosario Dawson has died in between films, further exacerbating his sense of middle-aged malaise.
But, this is not an outright melancholic affair. Smith plops into the film boatloads of cameos from the ViewAskew-verse. The same set of characters from the first film, the weird customers, and of course, the always lovable miscreants, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith respectively) show up to fulfill their obligations of being recognized by the legions of Smith fans. When Randal suffers a heart attack, informed, for sure, by Smith’s own experience, this is the catalyst that Randal needs to make his own movie about being a convenience store clerk. The film then becomes a meta-narrative of the making of the first “Clerks” movie, in which the characters replay the scenes we see in “Clerks.”
All this could have been an interesting meditation on what Smith’s life would have become if he had not been so bold as to take the biggest risk of his life. The ubiquity of the events and characters from the first movie could have further exacerbated just how much of a purgatory being a clerk in a small New Jersey town could be. Instead, the film is an overly sentimental exercise in excess. The juvenile 90s humor that felt transgressive then in its punk rock aesthetic of DIY black and white. Now in overlit digital, it comes off as depressing that we are still playing in the same sandbox, rehashing the same jokes.
Yet, I cannot say as a fan of Smith, who was the first “auteur” that was recognizable to me, that there were no hits of nostalgic laced-dopamine when cameos from people like Ben Affleck or an obscure reference to the events of “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” pops up. The comfort of living in nostalgia is perfectly acceptable, but for a series of films that is purportedly about aging, the only thing that feels aged is the franchise itself.
“Clerks III” Trailer