When CLERKS came out in 1994, Kevin Smith instantly became the poster-child for a market that, up until that point, had never been represented before. With his commentary on what it’s like to work an hourly job you’re over qualified for and growing up in a time when deciding what you want out of life was harder than ever before, Smith was the voice of reason. Yes, he sandwiched everything around fart jokes and foul language, but the originality and humor of his first directorial effort is everlasting and remains one of the greatest independent films of all time.
The hero of the film is Dante (Brian O’Halloran), an 30 year-old convenience store clerk that has no idea who he is or what he wants out of life. He’s accompanied on this journey by his best friend Randall (Jeff Anderson), who works at the video store next to Dante’s Quick Shop. On his day off, Dante gets called into work and what follows is a series of events that prove to make Dante’s day miserable, but enlightening at the same time. For the guy that’s “not even supposed to be here”, he manages to come to terms with his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend and his career path.
As the audience, we get to follow Dante and his character arc and it proves to be a great ride. Of course, Smith’s brand of filmmaking is not for everyone. The film is laced with Star Wars and comic book references that may be lost on the average viewer. But the best parts of the film are the countless digs he makes on the American consumer, all through the eyes of a convenience store clerk. Anyone who’s ever worked an hourly retail job should appreciate this film.
I enjoyed the references and the jokes, but what people sometimes forget is that there are actually three very good relationships in the film that each have their own quirks and each of them speak to a different part of our conscious. The easy-living, carefree side of Dante is represented in Randall, who is constantly trying to get Dante to blow off his job and have fun. Veronica represents the wild side of Dante that he longs for, but knows it’s not really who he is. Finally, there’s Caitlin, who represents the normal, 9-5 Dante, which accurately describes him, but is far from what he wants out of life. Again, those associations can be lost when you’re dropping f-bombs every 30 seconds and one of your biggest gags is having a girl have sex with a dead guy.
If there’s a downfall to the film, it’s with Brian O’Halloran. I won’t waste time bashing an untrained actor appearing in an independent film, but there were times when his awkward delivery took away from the film. But overall, the cast was actually pretty good. The odds were stacked against them being that the film was in black and white and filmed on a strict budget by a first time director. But the fact this is an independent film really adds to the charm and CLERKS 2 proved the concept really doesn’t work when pushed through the Hollywood factory.