Title: Clerks ll
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenwriters: Kevin Smith
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson
Meet the new Kevin Smith, different from the old Kevin Smith. He first appeared in Jersey Girl, which was reviled by all but me; in my review, I wrote that “Smith has stopped thinking of himself as the most clever little boy on the block and started becoming a filmmaker.” In Clerks II he manages the remarkable feat of continuing that trend within the franchise that initially gave him his reputation as a maverick of American independent cinema. The film should please the fans of the original 1994 film — which has a cult following not to be reckoned with — but it simultaneously transcends the shallowness of typical Kevin Smith fandom, becoming moving, and sweet, and one of the summer’s best surprises.
Clerks was probably one of the 90’s most well-known envelope-pushers, earning its reputation for frankly vulgar dialogue and a general disregard for propriety. A legitimate concern is that there is no longer anywhere to push the envelope, really: we’re living in a post-American Pie and Farrely Bros. universe, with mainstream comedy now having gone pretty much everywhere and lived to tell the tale. But here, Smith does something interesting: he incorporates the shock humor into the light sentimentality that seems to be his m.o., to an even greater extent than the American Pie films managed it.
And so, while one of the centerpiece jokes in Clerks II does indeed involve bestiality, the (hilarious) payoff is juxtaposed with one of the many character moments that make this film such a delight. What’s more, the gag legitimately moves the plot forward, leading directly into the most crucial (if also the most drawn-out) scene in the last act; it does not merely sit there, smugly satisfied with its outrageousness.
Part of the reason the humor works so often and so well is that the characters work: we really believe, for one thing, that these are the people from Clerks some twelve years after the events of that film, working at a fast-food joint instead of a convenience store and a video store. Brian O’Halloran’s Dante has gone from being a desperate, vaguely sympathetic schlub to someone wizened, somewhat weary, genuinely likable. Even Jeff Anderson’s Randal, perhaps symbolic of Smith’s evolution as a screenwriter, has a kinder streak this time around. To the returning cast, Smith adds the positively radiant Rosario Dawson as the manager who may or may not be having an affair with the engaged Dante, and Trevor Fehrman, who manages to be funny in a role that seemed headed for disaster.
With all that, Smith is able to get away with more than he ordinarily would have. I mentioned the extended bestiality gag that somehow works due to near-miraculous comic timing and the wisdom to actually integrate the joke into the film. There is also an exuberant montage set to the Jackson 5’s “ABC”; it could have seemed ridiculous, or like pointless filler, but instead it’s downright rousing, not least because we’re ready to smile with these characters. Even Jay and Silent Bob, normally the bane of my existence, made me laugh; I don’t remember Jay Mewes’ dancing having been this funny.
The ending is unabashedly sappy, but while certain scenes linger longer than they should, I bought it. I wished Dante and Randal well. Even the couple of last minute shout-outs to some of the more memorable jokes in the first film don’t seem (too) self-indulgent. Clerks II has at last put Kevin Smith on my radar.