This is not my favourite Kevin Smith film. Clerks get a lot of hype because it was his first film and sent him on to bigger and better things. But if we’re being honest, Clerks leaves a lot to be desired in terms of production value (the black and white is not doing it for me). It did allow us to see the kind of film maker Smith would become, though. His trademark dialogue is here, as well as his penchant for writing lovable slacker characters.
The film revolves around Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran). He is a guy in his mid-20s, not doing much with his life, except having unfulfilled employment at the local quick stop grocery store. The film follows Dante during one of his shifts at the Quick Stop, where he was forced to cover for another worker who didn’t show up that day. We follow Dante and his equally unambitious friend Randall (Jeff Anderson), who works at the video store next door. Dante has a day from hell, involving rooftop hockey, a death in the Quick Stop bathroom and finding out his girlfriend’s penchant for giving oral to all of New Jersey. All day Dante is busy complaining he wasn’t even meant to work today, while the Quick Stop customers seem to get weirder as the day goes on. The film is also relevant for being the first appearance of Kevin Smith staples, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).
Clerks is very funny, Smith’s dialogue is smart and witty, just like it always is. Some of Randall and Dante’s conversations are brilliant. My personal favourite is when they discuss the Star Wars trilogy and all of the innocent contractors that were in the Death Star when it exploded. It is a very funny take on something not many would have thought about. Smith has always been able to get new takes on random pop culture events, and this conversation is no different.
As interesting as this film is, I really found the story behind its making to be entertaining also. The film was financed for $30,000 (hence the black and white picture). Smith maxed out all of his credit cards and sold his beloved comic book collection to get the capital he needed. He directed, wrote, edited and even starred in this film as the popular Silent Bob. When the film was a big hit and Smith was successful, he bought back his comic book collection. It is a great story.
Smith made better movies in the future, as he got more experience and better production values, but the writing is still solid. Smith’s dialogue is great, especially when pop culture fanboys are concerned. This film about the service industry is very funny, and worth seeing.
I’m not really a fan of movies that are just a bunch of loosely related vignettes strung together by a thread of a plot. And that’s exactly what Clerks. is, a lot of talking that ultimately leads nowhere. However, I did spend about six years working various retail jobs, so there are parts of this movie that made me laugh and want to cry because they are so true.
Firstly, I have worked for that asshole boss who expects everyone except for him to put in extra hours. If you’re so much as two minutes late from a break it’s a national disaster, but it’s absolutely none of your business when he consistently takes 90 minute lunches. Or goes to Vermont, stranding an employee in the store all day, as happens to Clerks. main character, Dante.
Secondly, Dante’s constant refrain of “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” is one I’ve thought to myself. It never fails that the one day you decide to be nice and cover someone else’s shift also happens to be the day when everything that can possibly go wrong does. Every jerk comes in and yells at you for things beyond your control, the door won’t open, a guy dies in the bathroom. I’ve totally been there, Dante (sort of, I never had anyone die on my watch). Trust me– don’t answer the phone next time.
Thirdly, the customers. They are not always right. In fact, they are mostly wrong. There’s just something about walking into a retail establishment that turns some people in to illiterate douchbags, incapable of reading signs or showing any bit of kindness. I strongly recommend that everyone work in retail at least once in their lives, preferably on Black Friday at 7AM. Most people wouldn’t last an hour, and would have much more respect for those serving them.
Which brings me to my fourth and final point: retail workers (and waiters I’ll include you too) get absolutely no respect. People act like working in retail is so easy, I mean “teenagers do it, for fuckssake!“, but it’s actually a lot harder than most would realize. You have to learn and retain a huge amount of knowledge in a short amount of time (it’s not just the customers who won’t cut a newbie much slack, your coworkers quickly lose patiences, too). You have to manage your time and become an expert multi-tasker. You have to keep your cool when someone is yelling at you for not taking an expired coupon, all the while the checkout line is getting longer, you’ve paged for backup five times but no one’s showed up yet, and you’re down to your last dollar bill. Clerks. doesn’t highlight this aspect (the characters get a lot more lounging around time than most shops allow), but it’s clear that the customers don’t respect them or their job. Which leads the characters to not respect themselves or their job.
Yes, we know we’re not curing cancer and you could have bought whatever online, but if you’re in a store face-to-face with another human being you should treat them like one. It’s not hard, and you might even get a genuine smile or some leniency on the returns policy for your kindness.