With the Third "Clerks," Kevin Smith Draws From the Well Once More - Fresh Water or Fresh... Something Else?
Not every shift works out. This one's ok though.
I watched Clerks II three times at the theater. Indeed, I really liked that one. Maybe because the lovable (in)convenience duo got a clean and clear happy ending that brought their story full circle and made their days the same for their ever after and beyond? Maybe it was Kevin Smith’s evolution as a filmmaker, and how he wielded a finely timed tale with exact cutting and photography?
Or maybe Clerks II was just hilarious and heartfelt. As perfect as a Kevin Smith movie could possibly be.
Now, we’re at his third outing. The heroes of the piece look a bit older, likely feel a bit older, but clearly have internalized some things since II. They’re more comfortable and friendly with each other and have settled into their forever roles at the store they now share. It’s a sweet way for Kevin to revisit his characters, as Dante and Randal have turned from somewhat shaky close friends to hetero-life mates… like Jay & Silent Bob. The two are alpha and omega these days, and they fully acknowledge this at their age. It’s adorable.
Heading into III, every fan is aware of Kevin’s massive heart attack from a few years ago, and how it changed his health and outlook on life. And, if you follow his social media, it’s been so lovely to see. The man appears to be in a wonderful place, so why not express that through his movies? Randal (a returning Jeff Anderson) suffers the same condition as Kevin did, and he too has a life-changing epiphany - to make a movie about his life. From here on out, Randal goes full Randal and shows off the youthful arrogance that he once had sort of shed. Sort of.
And Dante (Brion O’Halloran)? He has to deal with the consequences. Because of course.
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It’s not an epilogue or a complimentary supplement, but rather THE conclusion to this duo’s story. There's no going back now - IF we’re dealing with doing poetic justice to their lives. Their arcs. As has been said better by others, and paraphrased here, 1“no story has a happy ending unless you stop telling it before it’s over.” Clerks II had that happy ending and was a technical and comedic slam dunk. Clerks III retreads territory and cringes with lines and cameos and often feels oddly timed and telegraphed. And yet, there’s a bitter soft (not sweet) positivity to how it comes to a close. Does it feel too much of one? Too much for two convenience store jockeys? A little here, a little there. And that little goes a long way, for worse and better.
Yes, Clerks III does show a lot of the writer/director’s recent penchant for in-universe references and stylistic indulgences, but no, the film as a whole has enough emotional weight to bring things to a master stroke-type crescendo, and a little past that - though maybe this wasn’t the tale for anything of those sorts. Such big and grand scenarios, like graveyard dreams and heavy pity party confrontations, contrast in ugly and rough ways with the sleight of hand of having low-hanging sophomoric cracks. Clerks III isn’t all that funny really, trading in the hilarious conversational vulgarities of its past for the self-seriousness of its middle-aged present. By moving forward in maturity, the film and its leads move backward too.
It may be more screenplay than play for the screen, but as a final round with Dante and Randal, it’s a little beautiful. And a little goes a long way. There are surprises and there are shocks - Who would’ve thought that one small grocery could produce such heavy stakes and human investments? How could one not think that? - and everyone involved is gung-ho. To make a Star Wars reference and a Kevin Smith deep cut, Clerks III is indeed his Empire Strikes Back (as he once prophecized III would become).
It’s a kind of comedic drama. A… tragedy? Maybe. Things get sad, even weepy. Sappy in fits, large fits, but there’ll be genuine tears from the super fans, that’s for sure. Through Randal’s mission to make a movie about himself, we see Dante’s stresses come out, no matter how well he tries to repress them all. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are, as before, on their game of course. But the game has changed a bit, and there’s now a calming nature here and there, where anger and sarcasm once dominated. The two have grown up, if by the forceful ravages of time. They’re exhausted until one falls on the ground in a sudden health scare. How about that.
As characters, Dante and Randal have assisted many other people at Quick Stop, greeting and ripping on them as they pass through in small moments. For them though, nothing is small. It’s their lives, after all. Clerks III ups the ante from the climactic jail sequence in II and delivers at least one powerhouse scene that’ll definitely rattle a little. Kevin Smith plunders and pillages his way through the film, even during the end credits, but I never felt once that the production was for relevancy or a search for dough. Rather, at this point, the man just wants to make movies with friends. That shines through here and is its main saving grace. It’s the large part of the little that goes to long lengths.
It’s all too silly to rank movies against one another (though it can be fun), so I won’t bother here except to say that while Clerks III isn’t a magnum opus (for me), it IS an ok movie. If it is a finale, it’s as true as could possibly be, and fair. Not perfect, but fair. Enough though. 22.5/5
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
Peter Bogdanovich, paraphrasing Orson Welles, in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.
The rating was changed from its original posting to reflect some updated thoughts and clarifications in the review.