by Rob Starzec
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first decided to watch Clerks. What I do remember is that it was one of the earliest rentals I requested through the Netflix by mail plan (which I still think is superior to the streaming plan). At that point in my life, I had only seen one movie directed by Kevin Smith: Jersey Girl. However, I had seen that movie before I hit the age when I truly started caring about movies, so there is no way I would have remembered who directed it. So, when I first watched Clerks, I was getting my first taste of Kevin Smith.
Before I had rented Clerks, I knew of Kevin Smith. I knew that he was Silent Bob of the iconic duo Jay and Silent Bob. I knew that he had his own type of cinematic universe since there were several other movies featuring Jay and Silent Bob. And finally, going into Clerks, I knew that the movie was the first one to be directed by Smith and that it had no budget.
I was glad to have all this context going into Clerks, because if I didn’t know all those details, I might not have even given it a chance. So, after my first viewing of Smith’s directorial debut, I didn’t love the film, but I had a deep respect for the project and for the director, who risked a lot to make his passion project, proving to himself that he could make it on his own terms. With that being said, I think that, in a comparable way, Clerks III can only be appreciated if you have the proper context of Kevin Smith as a person, as well as the context of his filmography, and therefore, the context of the Kevin Smith Cinematic Universe.
On that note, if you are familiar with Kevin Smith, or at least familiar with the first two Clerks installments, then you know exactly what to expect: casual banter about movies and pop culture, including a hilarious shot taken at “Chris Nolan;” characters who are everyday people such as the titular clerks, played by Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson, who probably are “not even supposed to be here today"; very basic cinematography and editing (not saying that’s a bad thing, especially since the story and jokes hold up this movie so well). However, Clerks III also has a terrific sense of self-awareness tied into its unique premise revolving around filmmaking itself!
This is how I was sold on paying full price for a ticket to see this three-quel: I just knew with how “meta” Kevin Smith tries to be in a lot of his films that I would be in for a treat with Smith literally discussing filmmaking itself in a movie of his. The setup for this premise has a lot of sentimentality in itself – at the start of the movie, Randal (Jeff Anderson) suffers a heart attack because he has become an old man (oh that’s right, it has been almost 3 decades since the first one was released) and when Dante (O’Halloran) semi-jokingly suggests that he should make a movie with the time he has left on Earth, he does precisely that! The interesting thing about this is that it leads to the character of Randal being much more prominent in this film than he was in the first two installments, in which Dante feels like the sole protagonist of those stories. With Randal “taking the reins,” I was really impressed that Kevin Smith gave him a heavy and well-developed character arc for this story. I was even more impressed by Anderson’s performance itself since he had to bring a completely separate set of acting chops to the table for his much more dramatic role in this installment. I mean, yes, he is still the same douchebag that he was in the earlier installments of this “franchise,” but here he just has a little more heart and it feels very genuine.
Of course, this wouldn’t truly be a Kevin Smith movie without a plethora of in-jokes about his cinematic universe, and the possibilities for these types of jokes were endless since Smith decided to make a “love letter to independent filmmaking” (at the screening I went to there were some behind-the-scenes features that played after the credits finished, this quote is from that). I think it might be beneficial to revisit the original Clerks before going to see this one in a theater, because a lot of the in-jokes that are made in this film revolve around the fact that they are making that movie specifically, which makes perfect sense with their decision to make Silent Bob the cinematographer for the movie within the movie.
This movie is fantastic for its main premise and what is going on with the film that Randal is trying to make and Dante’s friendship with Randal being tested throughout the story, but the “side-plots,” for a lack of a better term, seem a little out of place, even for a comedy. For one thing, there is a moment early in the film when Elias, a character who was introduced in the second installment of this series, decides to make a 180 which I am sure was done to create a lot of opportunities for jokes of him going against the current, but those types of jokes got old immediately since it was like a forced running gag. There were also some “typical” jokes revolving around Jay and Silent Bob being dumb stoners (which they have always been) although there is one hilarious joke at the start of the movie that deals with the duo adapting to marijuana becoming legal and more available. But jokes like “we’re too dumb to realize this was the video store” are unoriginal.
Going back to earlier, I know I said Randal has a big part in this film, but Dante still feels like a protagonist in this film as well. However, his character arc proves to be less interesting than Randal’s in this installment specifically. There is a plot point when a character from the original film returns, but I only remember some of the iconic jokes from the first film, so I didn’t even remember who this character was. And even with that being said, this character does not make too much of an impact on this specific story, so it seemed a bit unnecessary. On top of that, the rest of Dante’s arc is him running into problems with Randal being too demanding and not appreciative enough of all the challenging work that Dante is doing for Clerks (although they didn’t title it Clerks, could you imagine?).
After seeing Clerks III at a theater with an audience that was likely filled with fans of Kevin Smith, I really didn’t see what a lot of the problems were that critics had with the movie. The day that I went to see it, the movie had a 50 or slightly lower on Metacritic, which suggests very mixed reactions or a majority of negative reviews. However, there is a deep sense of sentimentality within this film without giving anything away that I don’t think the “professional critics” could grasp if they weren’t Kevin Smith fans in the first place. I highly recommend Clerks III if you are a major fan of Smith’s work, and if you do not know much about Kevin Smith, I would say try watching Clerks, and if you end up liking it, then finish the series.
Initial Ranking for 2022 New Releases: 17/57
Rating (out of 5.0 stars): 4