Clerks was the first film in the ˜View-Askewniverse’, the fictional universe in which most of writer/director/actor Kevin Smith’s films take place. They feature many of the same characters, and are best viewed in order, as a later film may have spoilers for a previous one. Clerks is the film that launched Kevin Smith’s career, and is the definition of a cult film. It was made on a budget of around $20,000 and made just over $3 million, but its main audience was found on video and DVD. Clerks put Smith on the map for his raunchy, unflinching writing and three-dimensional, interesting characters.
Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is not having a good day. He had to come into work on his day off, he missed his hockey game, he’s had several pushy customers already, and a big fight with his girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti). Everything gets even worse when he finds out his ex-girlfriend Caitlin is getting married and from there things spiral out of control as Dante’s friend Randal (Jeff Anderson) and local stoners/drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) cause his day to become one of the worst of his life.
The plot of Clerks is a fairly basic one. It’s a matter of how bad of the one person’s day can get. The answer is terrible. But the story isn’t the main reason Clerks is such a success. The real reason is Smith’s writing. Never has great writing destroyed low-budget shortcomings more than in this film. The vulgarity of the dialogue earned this film an 18 certificate on its own, which is very rare. The talk of sex in this film isn’t like a few 12 year old kids scrambling over a porno magazine though, it’s mature and well-handled. The characters talk about sex the way adults in their mid-20s would talk about sex. And in a way, that’s what makes Clerks so good. The way the characters act seems real and you actually feel sorry for Dante, at least until Randal’s excellently written rant against Dante at the end which I won’t dare spoil.
I suppose the only real criticism I can give the film is that it’s not all that funny. For a comedy, there’s a surprising absence of jokes. The jokes that are there are very good, there just aren’t enough of them. But Clerks works less as a comedy and more of a character study. Go in with that mindset and you’ll be just fine. It’s low-budget roots do start to creep though sometimes, especially with the ˜lost scene’ which is pivotal to the plot. I won’t spoil it, but it takes place at a funeral, was written, but never filmed. I watched the tenth anniversary special edition which replaces it with an animated segment having the actors reprise their roles and is done in the same style as the animated series based on the film. I have no idea what it’s like without the animated scene, but I do recommend watching this version.
Overall, Clerks is a very, very good film. The characters and writing are pitch-perfect, and its legacy has led to some incredible films in the ˜View-Askewniverse.’ the performances, particularly from Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are incredibly entertaining to say the least. Clerks is interesting, thought-provoking, and in some places (although it could certainly do with more) very funny. It’s a film every film-lover should see, as it displays that even with a tiny budget, you can still make a great movie.