Gen X and Clerks

(Check out the Clerks III movie review below the break)

Movie explosions are quite the thing. Right? Not only the pyrotechnic ones occurring on the screen but especially the ones that you feel. Momentous occasions that cause a galaxy to celebrate. Personal ones as enveloping as a hug. Those moments become real. They are transformative events. Special magic that only the movies can bring. Those unique blasts that give strength when all around you is rubble. 

I felt that initial explosion the first time I saw Superman leap taller than a building to catch a helicopter. And save a falling Lois Lane. You got me? Who’s got you? We all do, Lois. Every child who dreamt of flying witnessed that magic first hand. Boom. Explosion.

Superman: The Movie (1978)
Superman: The Movie (1978)

There was the time my eyes grew wide at seeing the Millennium Falcon swooping in to save the day in the Death Star trenches. The racing pulse while in the Los Angeles rain listening to a replicant speak of attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion while in a death grip with someone who looked a helluva lot like the Falcon’s pilot.

In 1992 there was that thump again as an ear dropped on the floor while a sadist danced away to Stealers Wheel. Only this time I’m older. And while the Dog danced I was punched with the  recognition that drama can be so damn biting and not coming off looking like a flat CBS Sunday Night Movie. That energy was felt again two years later when Pumpkin and Honey Bunny started to rob a diner. But right before then? Maybe ten or fifteen minutes directly preceding Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer’s shared aspirations and looks of love in their eyes? Even before the Miramax logo. There was a definite rumbling. One that would lead to a Superman-sized explosion. 

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)

A preview for a black-and-white movie preceded the feature. Two no-name actors joked on the screen. One of them wasn’t supposed to be there today. But I was. And I knew it. The solitary-named title was perfect. And as soon as Butch drove off into the sunset on Zed’s chopper, I immediately wanted to find that convenience store. 

Clerks (1994) by Kevin Smith

Clerks would, of course, become a cultural pillar. At the time though? Clerks was a raunchy, in-joke heavy display that would make most student films look like a Jean-Pierre Melville repast. But it was all Jersey. And Jersey in the mid 90s. Shot by a guy recently out of college – and working at a video store – starring guys recently out of college working at a video store – and being shown to a ton of recent college graduates, most of whom did not have real jobs or, like yours truly, worked at a video store! Aside from the penis jokes and drug references and pop-culture nods, Clerks was a testament. Sitcom setups aside, Clerks displayed what being in your mid-twenties and not having a clue about what laid ahead in the big, wide future, especially when the comfortable dysfunction of high school was not too far back in the old rearview, was all about. This was an absolute reflection of a time when all that mattered was having enough money to gas up the car, go to the movies, and hit a diner afterwards. About those moments of levity that punctuated the otherwise long stretches of despair and navel gazing and self-loathing. Clerks hit that Gen X zeitgeist at the right ever-lovin’ time. 

Immensely quotable, Clerks was all about the long exposition. A diatribe about the strength of Star Wars movies and the weakness of teenaged infidelity. Of friendship, of death, and the relevance of an outdoors hockey game. The fluidness of it all.

“Which did you like better? Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back?”

Randal Graves, Clerks (1994)

As Gen Xers, we had these established blueprints handed down to us from the Boomers. The rote go-to-school, go-to-college, go-to-career, go-to-marriage was a prison sentence. We grew up listening to the second generation of rock n’roll that told us differently. If life, after all, is nothing but a stream why can’t we simply take some time and hang out at the video store? 

So we did. And time passed. And not all of it was bad.

Clerks starring Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson
Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson in Clerks

The fluidity of those mid-twenties solidified into a third decade. If you were lucky, life hardened into a foundation strong enough to start building something. A career that was earned, not inherited. A good-looking spouse. A mortgage. Ramping up equity. Stashing debt on a card with an APR that looks like the asking price for a Jackson Pollock. 

For some, though, life merely collagualted into quicksand that threatened to pull you under unless you remained. Perfectly. Silently. Still.

No motion. No movement. Kinda like death. Or some suburban Jersey towns.

Since Clerks, multi-hyphenated writer-director-creator Kevin Smith jumped into comedies and dramas all enveloped within the allure of the Garden State. Some were critical hits, some were box office misses, all committedly catered to his fans. And twelve years later, he returned to the Quick Stop oblivious to the adage that you can’t go home again. 

In twelve years, not much changed for our heroes Dante and Randal, now deep in their thirties, and still clerks. But even worse? They now worked in the lowest of service industries: fast food.

Clerks II (2006)

Clerks II is full of heart and amusement and a killer dance sequence that has not been seen in a comedy since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Randal’s antics continue in grand fashion, this time joined alongside Rosario Dawson as a further foil. Smith knows his characters are older. He knows that they should move forward. But he also enjoys that Gen X procrastination factor, one that is obviously extended to the Nth degree in his humor. However, Smith’s humor opens into long-winded, expertly-written explorations into adulthood. Randal obviously luxuriates in his social standing. Dante wants more, but is too afraid to jump off whatever plans someone has made for his life. 

As amusing as this beautiful conflict becomes, Clerks II poorly mishandles what should have been the movie’s emotional climax in a most unfortunate and base setting. That fumble is recovered, however, and totally scores in the next scene where, while incarcerated, Randal fully commits his Philos love for Dante. Friendship restored, and comically full circle, Dante and Randal purchase the Quick Stop and return to a life that made them who they are. The comfort of home while acknowledging their responsibility as adults. 

Clerks III movie review by Joe Kucharski
Jay and Silent Bob in Clerks II (2006)

But everything that’s good comes in threes. Just ask George Lucas. And Peter Jackson. And Francis Ford Coppula. 

Or not.

Kevin Smith will give you an amen, brother.

So chain your kids to their phones, Gen Xers, ‘cause here comes Clerks III

Title: Clerks III (2022) 
Director: Kevin Smith 
Writer: Kevin Smith 
Studio: View Askew Productions  //  Lionsgate

IMDb Plot: Dante, Elias, and Jay and Silent Bob are enlisted by Randal after a heart attack to make a movie about the convenience store that started it all. 

Joe Says: Clerks III is Kevin Smith’s love letter to Jersey and possibly the most authentic work he has showcased since his previous return to the Quick Stop. This is a celebration of everything Clerks.

In preparation for the upcoming thirtieth anniversary, Clerks III finds Dante and Randal at their usual stations. In life. In society. They are older and a paunchier as they enter their fifties but their eyes still sparkle with ironic contempt towards those they serve. And although complaining Dante (Brian O’Halloran) suffers from heartbreak, it is another cardiac issue that hits the sarcastic Randal (Jeff Anderson). In an instance of art mimicking life, writer-director Kevin Smith afflicts Randal with a life-altering heart attack, mirroring an event similar to Smith’s own from 2018. Reborn and renewed, Randal realizes he is living on borrowed time. He proclaims no more watching of movies. Now he wants to make them. And what better way to start than with a movie about his life as a clerk filled with all the stories and anecdotes from his time behind the counter.

Sound familiar, snootchie bootchie?  

Going full meta on this one, Smith returns home as Randal, a begrudging Dante, and those ever-present foils of New Jersey comedy, Jay and Silent Bob, recreate many of those classic, beloved scenes from Clerks. Smith goes an extra step and welcomes back to the cast most of those every-day Jerseities that he once used for those original scenes. 

Veronica is back (and is wonderful). The Chewlies Gum rep. The dude with his hand stuck in the chips. The physical fitness trainer. The little smoking girl. The roofing contractor. The milk maid. Rooftop hockey. Ben Affleck, Smith’s longtime friend and player, makes a cameo as do a few other Hollywood friends Smith picked up along the way. 

There are two notable absences. Lisa Spoonauer, the actress who played Caitlin Bree, who passed away in 2017. And David Kline, Smith’s longtime director of photography and Clerks other success story. Kline has gone on to shoot full seasons of Homeland and the Deadwood movie as well as, and more in tune with Smith pop-culture standings, episodes of The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett

Clerks III (2022)

Clerks III is Kevin Smith’s love letter to Jersey, his fans, and his own time as a clerk. Although there is plenty of returning to most-familiar waters, Smith’s dialogue on Clerks III is refreshing and possibly the most authentic work he has showcased since his previous return to the Quick Stop. Yes, jokes and quips and drug humor abound. Yet, Smith serves these as a chaser to present his own social commentary. He questions the power of prayer while mocking the ridiculousness of satanism and the jokingly-ephemeral cryptocurrency. He shows again and again the strength of friendship. Randal is annoying and juvenile; he grates on Dante’s perseverance. At times Dante doesn’t want to even be around him, but he still loves him. Like most Gen X families. 

Clerks III movie review by Joe Kucharski
Dante and Randal, Jay and Silent Bob in Clerks III (2022)

Other than making Clerks III personal and real for Smith, O’Halloran steals the movie and proves he is an actor with presence. Amidst all the yelling and goofiness and overall Jerseyness on display (Jay sports a Marty Brodeur NJ Devils sweater in style, man) O’Halloran shares two quiet scenes that are ripped with emotional strength. O’Halloran gives the performance of his career truly exemplifying some of Smith’s best writing. After all, it is not only Randal who is living on borrowed time. As the View Askew faithful already know, Dante’s initial fate was to die at the end of Clerks. A result of a cigarette robbery gone wrong. That fate was averted. But all is fair game in Jersey. Even if he’s not supposed to be here.

Smith realizes that his life at the Quick Stop must end. And Clerks III gives the trilogy a fitting finale. This is probably the last time a generation will see Dante and Randal on the roof playing hockey. 

Or perhaps not. After all, that big campfire scene at the end of Return of the Jedi? That was supposed to be the last time Luke and Han and Leia and Lando would ever be seen together and man, that was not the case at all. 

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Return of the Jedi (1983)

Randal, if you remember, prefers the ending of Jedi. My guess is he likes his own, too. Clerks III, like many of Smith’s movies, might be targeted to a specific crowd, and is a little too in-joke heavy, but its celebration of Clerks is enough for every fan to be proud to be here today.

As a Clerks fan? As Gen Xer who is a little older and a paunchier? My eyes still sparkle. Those movie explosions occur a lot less frequently, though. Okay, that time the Avengers finally assembled and Cap told Hulk to smash? That was righteous. 

And seeing the Quick Stop in bright daytime color as it slowly tracked back into glorious black-and-white? Yeah, that was pretty righteous, too. 


Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson in Clerks II

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