Director: Kevin Smith
Perhaps one of the most thankless jobs out there is that of a convenience store clerk. The pay is lousy, the customers can often be uncooperative, and the work itself is generally mind-numbing. Clerks the world over finally got a little bit of respect in 1994 when Miramax Films released a modestly produced film appropriately titled Clerks. The directorial debut of independent film darling Kevin Smith, Clerks is very much a slice of Generation X life, which we see while it follows two twenty-something slackers as they waste a day at their dead end jobs and try finding their way into the real world.
The plot is effortlessly simple, yet very involved. Woebegone convenience store clerk Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) is called into work on his day off. Though he assumes it'll be just another day at the Quick Stop, he's dead wrong. Once there, he's forced to deal with more problems than he knows what to do with. Dante's girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) reveals certain parts of her sex life that knocks him for a loop; Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer), the ex that Dante never got over, is getting married to an Asian design major; and Dante's friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), a clerk at the video store next door, spends all his time at the Quick Stop hassling Dante's customers. Add in various insane and moronic customers, an anti-cigarette lynch mob, a funeral, a rooftop hockey game, detailed discussions of sex, a debate over whether The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi is better, and wild drug dealers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) raising hell in front of the store, and Dante's day just can't get any weirder.
While Clerks is not perfect, I find it to be an great debut for Kevin Smith and the View Askew team. For a movie shot at a convenience store in black and white for less than 30,000 dollars with no professional actors, it's pretty darn good. The movie's extremely low-rent feel only adds to its charm, making it seem like it was all filmed with convenience store security cameras. As the movie takes place in and around your average run-of-the-mill convenience store, one would think that it would get tiresome after a while. It'd be easy just to have everyone sitting around doing nothing while reciting their dialogue, but the handling of each scene is well done. One early scene features Dante and Veronica sitting under the counter, having a chat. While it seems like a rather boring setup, a touch of feeling is added by having Dante paint Veronica's fingernails while they talk. Even though it's a little detail, it contributes a lot to the scene.
On the acting end, I did very much enjoy pretty much everyone. I wasn't exactly sold on Marilyn Ghigliotti, but that's no fault of hers. I didn't think the character was exactly solid, more of a shrew than a love interest. But eh, what can you do. Lisa Spoonhauer is charming in her role as the flirtatious Caitlin, while Jason Mewes and Smith himself are hilarious in their first appearance as Smith's popular weed peddling duo Jay and Silent Bob. However, the best parts of the cast are its leads, Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson. Their interaction with one another is quite entertaining, with O'Halloran's Dante playing the straight man to Anderson's uncouth Randal. They're helped by Smith's excellent script, which not only boasts great dialogue, but looks into the lives of Generation X society. The characters of Dante and Randal are at that awkward stage in life, standed somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, going through life on cruise control, waiting for their big moment to find them instead of finding it themselves. If this aspect was Smith's intent, I don't know. Either way, it makes the movie that much deeper and stronger because of it.
Quentin Tarantino may have gained fame as a video store clerk that went on to make movies, but Kevin Smith has gone above and beyond that by being a convenience store clerk that made a movie about the convenience store itself. While the language is filthy and crude (which originally warranted an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, but was changed to an R after Miramax appealed), Clerks serves as a very real look at twenty-something Gen-X slackers in the mid-90s. And because it features quite a few laughs, I'll give it three and a half stars, leaning toward four. Go check it out, won't you?
Final Rating: ***½