Sunday, August 20, 2006

Clerks 2

I'm a Kevin Smith fan.

I own all his movies on DVD.....except for Jersey Girl. Which gets a bad rap for being worse than it really is....maybe.

I'm sure I'm not in the minority when I say that the first Clerks movie had a profound effect on me both personally, and in my opinion about the possibilities of film as an art form.

Here was a movie that didn't look or sound like the typical Hollywood film of the day, and it was made by a man who truly represented the independent spirit.

A film school drop out, average joe, with limited resources, no studio contacts, and using a no name cast, who utilized his one strong skill as a comedic writer in order to make his dream project by maxing out his credit cards.

The general consensus was that the movie featured brilliant, outstanding dialogue, which overshadowed the thin story, mediocre to poor performances, and admittedly undisciplined, unpolished direction.

But what it had going for it was that there was a palpable energy, affection, and desperation in the film that reflected the passions of the director.

Something all of us undiscovered artists shared in our own lives and ambitions.

When the film became a huge hit, suddenly all the artistic aspirations of the working class became tantalizingly reachable.

Which was obviously just an illusion. But fun to daydream about anyways.

Simply put, the making and the success of the film was the underdog story of the decade.

Six movies, a failed animated T.V. show, countless appearances, numerous writing and acting gigs later Kevin Smith returns to where it all began.

Or has he ever left?

The truth is, for the exception of Jersey Girl, all his following movies have been sort of sequels to the first film. The movies, affectionately called the Jersey chronicles, feature the characters of Jay and Silent Bob, that live in the same world as the Clerks themselves, Dante and Randal.

This time around Dante and Randal take center stage.... again.

When the film begins we see that seemingly not much has changed in their world. Dante dutifully reports to work at the Quick Stop only to find that an accident by Randal has caused the beloved/cursed stores to burn to the ground. With no options they are forced to take jobs at the fast food joint Mooby burgers.

Jump forward and Dante is engaged to be married and this is his last day at work, before he leaves Jersey and moves to Florida, to live the first day of the rest of his life.

But can he easily move knowing that he'll leave behind his best friend, a potential soul mate in Becky, played by Rosario Dawson, and the city, and the View Askew universe that the audience has grown to love?

Before I begin my actual review of the film, I'd like to point out that during the first 15 minutes of the film, I had the unfortunate opportunity to sit right next to someone who had obviously seen the film....many times.

In fact he had actually memorized long speeches from the film, and was reciting them along with, sometimes seconds before the actual scene would appear on film

After several of my fellow patrons had threatened bodily harm to him, he stopped.....finally.

But one can imagine this left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the film, when several times during the 15 minutes I was tempted to either move seats, get up and report the idiot, or even contemplated smacking the idiot in the brain with my fists, forearm and knees.

Indeed if he was not accompanied by a lady friend I most certainly would have, and I might not be here writing this post, but instead in a jail cell considering a different kind of blog post about the dangers of losing one's temper.

In any case,I admit there's a possibility that my review might be slightly tainted. However I firmly believe I don't feel it has affected my disposition to the point of not writing a fair and accurate review of the film.

In any case here it goes.

The film for me was a case of two extremes.

I hated it, and liked it.

Specifically I hated the first half of the film, and enjoyed the second half of the film...almost to the point where I might recommend it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first act of the film which includes the exposition, and the introduction of new characters didn't work for me.... at all.

In fact throughout several points in the beginning I contemplated walking out of the film.


Not for the same reason that Joel Siegel did however, and not because of the ignorant jerk next to me.

But because I did not care or feel for any of the characters all.

While watching the first 30 minutes I kept considering how in the press after Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back, Kevin Smith had remarked how he out grew the characters in the View Askew universe. That he felt it was time for him to move on from the characters and explore new territory.

The characters of Dante and Randal, to me in the beginning, just seemed like bitter, unpleasant, immature people that I had no interest in getting to know all over again.

Which may have been some of the point.

Except that none of the comedy seemed to work for me in the beginning. The interesting, humorous mean spirited banter of the original film, had turned annoying, uninspired, boring, and tired.

When Randal torments a strange annoying co-worker named Elias, it seems desperate and excessive, a plea for laughs.

Something that was below everyone involved.

Why feel the need to comically point out what is abundantly clear.?

The guy is weird. Unrealistically character actor weird. We get it.

Rather than just let the character exist. Kevin Smith's writing feels the need for Randal to comment and remark on those peculiar traits over and over and over again....just in case we missed it.

The same can be said about the character of Emma Bunting.

Awkwardly played by Smith's real life wife Jennifer.

Along with excessive writing pointing out her weird traits, Emma Bunting's character has the unfortunate circumstance of not given good dialogue to work with as well as a weak performance. Couple that with the idea that a lady like her would even be interested in someone like Dante, and it's a mess waiting to happen.

Although his films are not renown for their acting prowess Mrs. Smith's performance is unusually stilted. Which is unfortunate since I found her enjoyable in Jay and Silent Bob and humorous in her bit part in Jersey Girl.

To be fair, looking over her IMDB page, unless she has theatre training I'm unaware of, it's obvious that she is just starting out in the business.

It's possible that the idea of playing love interest, and performing a make out scene while his husband the director was watching, proved to be too awkward for her. In any case it's obvious she is not comfortable here, and is hard to watch without being pulled out of the movie's story.

There are however some comic highlights in the first half that I won't reveal, not surprisingly involving Jay and Silent Bob.

But for me the laughs were very few and far between.

The banter and observations in this film seemed to lack the timely and cultural relevance that the first film did.

It just felt forced.

It had me questioning whether all the material with these two characters had been exhasted in the first film, the animated series, and the cameos in the other films.

When things start to turn around for the film is with the arrival of Becky played by Rosario Dawson. Although she too suffers with awkward exposition, and unnecessary scenes of character revealing quirks, at least her character has an energy and a personality that is affable.

Although it's even harder for us still to imagine her character would feel romantically for Dante.

No matter how much they try to tone down her appearance.

Strangely enough it's when the comic hi-jinks start to mellow down, that the film starts to begin to work.

After an effective encounter with a high school nemesis, played by Jason Lee. We start to get into the real heart of the movie.

How the friendships that we keep help sustain us through the mediocrities of life.

The second half plays with a sensibility which is perhaps closer to where Kevin Smith's head is at nowadays.

More mature, heartfelt, and sincere.

The second half of this film is what Jersey Girl wanted to be.

Sure some of the situations are formulaic. But much like the first film, there is an energy and spirit in the second half of this movie which reflects and represents the director's life view.

I'm sure Kevin Smith is well aware how lucky he has been in life.

Whereas the first film reflected the anger, frustration and absurdity, which he felt at that period in his life. The second half of this movie reflects his ideas of taking life more slowly, observing the positives in one's life, and the joys possible when listening to one's own heart when making life choices.

The second half of the film is also a lot more fun. The humor also hits it's stride in the second half, it's a nice blend of heartfelt sincerity, and absurd comedic over-the-top-shocking humor.

It's an interesting contrast.

It's almost as if he wrote the first half of the movie to please his hardcore fan-boys, and the second half to please general moviegoers.

It's quite dramatic to witness actually, two drastically different tones, and sensibilities in the same film.

In retrospect, I guess, when considering the two halves of this film one can argue that the film represents a synopsis of Kevin Smith's own life. An angry, bitter, frustrated, confused, first half, followed by a mature, grateful, life affirming, second half. Was this done on purpose? I don't doubt it. He is a talented writer.

But is it a good film?

Although it's obviously subjective, there was a significant portion in my audience who enjoyed the first half of the film, as well as the second. There were also however several walk outs in my screening, and as I stated earlier a temptation by myself to follow suit.

Although I enjoyed the second half of the film, the reality is I could not reconcile my dislike for the first half.

The writing, acting and story just seemed awkward, tedious, and uninspired. Although the film redeems itself in the second half, it's too much to least for me.

A telling question which I posed to myself was whether I felt the film was up to the standards of the first 5 films in the View Askew universe.

The answer is no.

But perhaps most telling is that I don't intend to add it to my DVD collection.

I do hope to catch the movie again perhaps on Cable or maybe on DVD.... as a rental, just to see it with a clearer head without the annoying mimicking parrot movie patron in my ear.

But I don't think it'll change my perception. The reality is I just think that it's now become abundantly obvious that Kevin Smith has moved on from this type of material, and he doesn't seem to have the same passion and enthusiasim for the View Askew universe like he once did.

He is ready for a new chapter in his artistic life.

I look forward to seeing it.

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