By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY — It’s been more than 20 years since register-jockeying everyman Dante assured filmgoers that the Quick-Stop convenience store was, indeed, open, but writer Kevin Smith’s (yes, he’s also the director, but humbly avoids that label) loveable indie film from 1993 has kept audiences new and old coming back ever since. And we’re still glad Dante came in to work, even though he might have mentioned he wasn’t supposed to that day.
Once described as “David Mamet meets Howard Stern,” Clerks expertly blends crudeness with sharp wit and intelligence in lengthy back-and-forths between two characters, which, accompanied with its static location and (almost) complete lack of action, resembles a play more than your average comedy. Alonso Melgar of the Fifth Reel remarked how “genuine and real [Clerks] feels” but is “one of the least cinematic movies you’ll ever see.” Clerks’ rawness and simplicity may put some viewers off, but anyone with a love of wit, deadpan comedy, language and just a hint of maturity will certainly find themselves coming back to the Quick-Stop time and again – preferably for Chewlies over cigarettes, though.
Smith has said that Clerks came about because he hadn’t seen characters in a film that sounded like he and his friends did. Nor, he added, had any others been set in a convenience store. Good point, Kev. Since Smith actually worked in the Quick-Stop during the day, he used fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s advice: Write with what you have. So he wrote the main character, the Charlie Brown-like schmuck, Dante Hicks, based on himself, insecurities and all. Likewise, his friend Walt Flanagan inspired the blissfully ignorant, devil-may-care Randal, Dante’s best friend and co-worker. Randal may be a rebel without a cause and the source of all Dante’s misery, but his carefree wisdom might be Dante’s blessing in disguise. Melgar adds to this, saying Smith has a “knack for creating relatable characters and having them interact with each other in a believable way.” That said, the secondary characters are just as entertaining – namely the goofy duo Jay and Silent Bob (if C3PO and R2-D2 were stoners) who, like many of his other characters, have appeared in nearly all subsequent Smith films. His blatant love of comic books and Star Wars (see Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in New Jersey) likely had an influence on creating this fictional universe, dubbed the View Askewniverse.
For all its rawness and simplicity, Clerks has a wonderful story arc that hits all the right beats. It begins lighthearted and comedic, and ends on a mature, serious note; and the evolving topics of conversation between Dante and Randal represent that arc. Throughout their mundane day, between mindlessly taking change from one customer and arguing with the next, Dante and Randal debate the ethics of destroying the unfinished Death Star in Return of the Jedi (there were clearly plenty of innocent contractors and other workers onboard), before ultimately contemplating their place in life and what they’re going to do next. With themes of quarter-life crises and lack of ambition, it’s unsurprising that Smith’s biggest inspiration to write the film was Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Crude jokes aside, anyone in their 20s can find something relatable in Clerks.
Clerks will be showing at the Plaza Theatre on November 27th, courtesy of the Fifth Reel. This is the third-year anniversary party so the theatre will be complete with streamers, balloons, and possibly cake. Melgar said organizers are “really planning a party,” so don’t miss out on this event! With pop-punk trio N.P.F.E. opening the show, not even Dante could find something to complain about.
Clerks plays at the Plaza Theatre Nov. 27.AB, Alberta, Clerks, Kevin Smith, Plaza Theatre, The Fifth Reel