The World Needs Clerks, Too
This will sound ridiculous, but it's true: Clerks 2 is one of the best sequels I've ever seen. It's not a perfect film, and non-fans of writer/director Kevin Smithmay scoff at the very idea that one of his foul-mouthed talk-fests could be good, let alone great. But as a bookend, as a legitimate revisiting of characters, events and themes from a previous movie, it doesn't get much better than this.
The film centers on Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two directionless slackers in their early 30s who work at a low-rent New Jersey fast-food joint called Mooby's. Their previous jobs were as clerks in a convenience store and its neighboring video store, but after Randall accidentally burns both down, they're forced to find their first new gigs in a decade.
Mooby's doesn't get a lot of foot traffic, meaning Randal has a lot of free time to harass bloggers on the Internet and horrify his teenaged, Christian co-worker, Elias (Trevor Fehrrman), with tales of his bizarre sexual escapades. Dante, on the other hand, has begun a twenty-four-hour countdown to his big trip to Florida, where he'll marry his bubbly, hot* girlfriend, Emma (Jennifer Scwalbach Smith), and manage one of her father's car wash franchises. Complicating matters is his affair with Mooby's manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson), who has the looks, brains and heart of a perfect catch--but not the promise of financial security that Dante has sought his whole life.
Clerks 2takes place over the course of one bizarrely long shift (Dante and Randal open the restaurant and close it, and we never see or hear mention of any more employees than the four I've already mentioned) in which we're treated to Randal's ingenious, pantomimed re-cap of the Lord of the Ringsmovies; a hilariously provocative debate over racial insensitivity; a look into the mind of a sexually repressed young churchgoer; and a Tijuana-style donkey show, smack dab in the middle of the Mooby's dining area.
It's no surprise that the film is so raunchy: The first Clerkswas all about the bored pop-cultural and philosophical musings of a couple of twenty-somethings. Ten years on, the guys have the same interests, but Smith does not. He's no longer content to let dialogue drive the proceedings, and his pro-active approach to getting the characters out of the retail setting for longer than a couple of minutes here and there is a refreshing expansion of scope (one of the key ingredients to any great sequel).
He also gives the film a much bigger heart than the original. Dante's love triangle isn't the only one of import here: Randal acts out, whines and schemes in an attempt to both express love for his life-long best friend and construct the emotional steel wall he'll need after the Florida big-time yanks Dante away for good. Smith seems to feel the same way about his characters, acknowledging to some extent that he's saying goodbye to the sarcastic duo that made him famous--ostensibly to move on to different, more "legitimate" types of movies (indie-porn dramady Zack and Miri Make a Porno and forthcoming thriller Red State). In a strange but fitting turn, Smith bids adieu with a serenade.
Clerks 2 has more musical montages (including a full-fledged, dancing-in-the-streets musical number) than the average episode of One Tree Hill. From the note-perfect opening-credits use of Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers" to the teardrop nostalgia of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979", the film is peppered with touching tributes and promises that everything will be okay (for the characters and the fans). I admit that on first viewing, I found the "ABC" sequence rather jarring; but it really does work, and is no more contrived than the linchpin of the first movie, in which Dante's ex-girlfriend had sex with a dead guy on a toilet.
The closing song, Soul Asylum's "Misery" is the perfect capper to the film and to the Clerksfranchise. Not only is it a beautiful bit of filmic poetry, as George Lucas might say (the band's "I Can't Even Tell" closed out the original movie), but it's a neat representation of where the characters have ended up. Not to spoil anything, but pay attention to the look that Dante and Randal shoot each other in the middle of the camera's protracted pull-back. It's an awkward moment between two people who allegedly got everything they wanted out of life, and the subtext is delicious.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jay and Silent Bob. As played by Jason Mewesand Kevin Smith, these foul-mouthed stoner icons have appeared in almost every one of Smith's Jersey films. Their evolution from slice-of-life curiosities to branded pranksters comes to a head in Clerks 2. They're only intermittently amusing as characters here; in fact, many of their gags seem dependent on the audience knowing who they are and recalling genuinely funny material from previous movies. The duo's intro scene is particularly embarrassing, and if you can convince someone who's never seen a Kevin Smith film to stay in the room after it's over, I'm sure there are twenty marketing firms that would love to pick your brain.
Perhaps I'm just getting older, or maybe Smith and Mewes simply aren't funny in those roles anymore, but I found myself rolling my eyes whenever they'd pop up on screen. The pair are especially flat compared to the great chemistry between Dawson and O'Halloran, O'Halloran and Anderson, and Anderson and Fehrman. There are so many rich personalities and so much funny, poignant (and low-brow) dialogue in every scene that Jay and Silent Bob feel less indispensable and more like an imposition.
What I like most about Clerks 2 is that it is the perfect kind of sequel. Like Rocky Balboa, the film was made more than a decade after the movie that inspired it and catches up with its characters, rather than shoe-horning them into familiar situations that evoke dollars and not much else. By the end, it's clear that Smith and his protagonists have grown up (a little) and are ready to move on to a phase of their lives that isn't rambunctious or flashy, but more satisfying than anything they could have imagined in their youth.
That's a lot of high-falutin' schmaltz for a comedy whose highlights include a story about a guy with a pickle jammed up his ass; but amidst the dick-and-fart jokes is a tender, beating heart that knows the value of friendship and the truth about how awful the Lord of the Rings movies really are.
* No offense to Ms. Schwalbach, but I found the Clerks 2 characters' fawning assessment of her looks utterly strange. Personally, I thought she used to look attractive--in an Unconventional Smart Girl way--but sometime between Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and this film, she lost way too much weight and had way too much junk injected into her face. She now looks like Jenna Jameson in Zombie Strippers (pre- or post-mortem is a judgment call that I'll leave in your capable hands).