Clerks. (1994) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for extremely explicit sex-related dialogue
Running time: 92

Cast: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier
Director: Kevin Smith

Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Review published March 7, 2010

22-year-old Dante Hicks (O'Halloran, Mallrats) bemoans his lot of having to work on his scheduled day off in his job at the Quick Stop market in New Jersey, but he's not one to cause waves, and reluctantly accepts the request.  For such a low-paying job, he sure must put up with a lot, including demanding customers, drug dealers who loiter, and friends and lovers who make him lose his professional cool.  If only he could be like his friend Randall (Anderson, Love 101), the clerk in the small video store next door, and genuinely not care about his responsibilities to the menial job, he'd be a great deal happier.

With only a budget of $27,000, Clerks is not going to win over fans on technical appeal, filmed in murky black-and-white film with first-time actors, some of whom have no prior acting experience (and it shows).  Kevin Smith's (Dogma, Chasing Amy) prowess as a director alternates between lengthy stationary shots of actors reeling off rehearsed dialogue and awkwardly presented cuts to try to give the semblance that he made an attempt to deliver something approaching a real movie.  However, for all of its flaws in its clumsy presentation, what it does have is a pop-culture appeal that set a new trend in comedies aimed at the 18-35 crowd, drawing in a range of comical characters, quotable dialogue, and a level of perversity in its approach that would set the trend among R-rated endeavors for many years to come.

Smith effectively taps into the mid-90s slacker angst that ran through the minds of many young men and women of the era, trying to find definition to their lives while aimless as to the direction to go to begin the process.  There is a point where post-school young adults accept a job in order to pay the bills, but those jobs barely tap the potential of their talent, and they feel like they are but a hamster in the wheel of industry, too complacent in doing an undemanding job to effectively seek something better, yet too intelligent to not feel like they're wasting away their lives in a job that has no future.  One senses that his two main leads, the genial but frustrated Dante and the defiantly uncaring Randall, represent the attitude he has when it comes to minimum-wage employment, wanting to feel like what one does is important, and yet none of it really means anything to him personally. 

Although the dialogue may be too pithy to be reeled off without a chance for contemplative thought as staged by Smith, it does smack of genuine craft, as these observations on everything from sex, relationships, hermaphrodite porn, aggravating customers, and the comic tragedy of Return of the Jedi that few might have taken the time to ponder can only come through the idle minds of the clever intellectuals that find themselves inhabiting jobs where they have ample time to come up with elaborate and humorous theories on how the world works, if only to keep themselves from becoming bored. 

But even if you don't really get the hellish existence that is a dead-end job beneath one's station, Clerks is still an oft-hilarious, observant, and refreshing comedy that entertains consistently beyond its own technical ineptitude.  Once you become accustomed to the ungainliness of its appearance and the obviousness of some of the gags, you begin to embrace all of its flaws, and even find them endearing for how Smith does so much with so little. 

Kevin Smith would go on to do better films as a director, but in the minds of many of his fans, Clerks is still the definitive entry in his filmography, with the most rounded of characters, cleverest dialogue, and most personal of meaning.    

-- Followed by Clerks 2

 Qwipster's rating:

©2010 Vince Leo