Despite the sheer omnipresence of Kevin Smith (via various podcasts and shows) in my life, I’ve never written extensively about his work. This is due to being so ingratiated by his affable persona that being critical of his work can be tricky. However, this stance changed with Clerks III, which on the face of it appears to be the director’s most personal film to date. Does it succeed? Have you seen Clerks III? Let me know in the comments below.
For better or worse, Kevin Smith’s movies have been deeply personal, whether it’s a body horror movie inspired by a podcast (Tusk) or an obnoxious teen movie that felt like a lashing out against his critics (Yoga Hosers). Smith’s movies have lived and died by the emotions he’s trying to explore. With this in mind, Clerks III is a fascinating addition to Smith’s directorial catalogue. It’s sweet and endearing, but also highly indulgent, with moments that occasionally veer into the realm of cinematic navel gazing.
The third instalment sees the central titular characters, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) continue to serve customers with a detached and healthy dose of quoting pop culture references. However, this seemingly peaceful existence is thrown into disarray when Randal suffers a sudden heart attack. After surviving the ordeal, Randal feels inspired to make a movie about his time as an employee at the convivence store. Meanwhile, Dante is dealing with the loss of his wife, Becky (Rosario Dawson) and unborn child, as one of the film’s shooting locations is the place where he met and worked with his lost love.
If Clerks was the cinematic equivalent of mooning at the prestigious establishment and Clerks II was the middle-age hangover from this course of action, then Clerks III exists as the malaise that kicks in the tail end of life. To Smith’s credit, the central two characters do confront in very real ways, the choices and life that they have led. In the case of Randell, it’s someone who’s trying to justify a mundane life by giving it celluloid immortality. As for Dante, he mourns the life he was meant to have as he’s haunted by visions of his wife, Becky.
While I appreciated these scenes between Becky and Dante (particularly Rosario Dawson’s cheeky and fun performance), they fall into the trap of many sequels that relegate previously established characters to the dead or forgotten realm. This is compounded by the dead wife or lover troupe that’s old hat and is not quite as interesting as if the character was alive etc.
The screenplay also stumbles in some of its self-referential moments. This is particularly apparent in a protracted scene of celebrity cameos, who give line readings of the famous line from the first movie- “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” There are also instances where the movie lingers too much on recreating scenes from Clerks. This is counterbalanced by subtle moments that poke fun at Clerks 3 itself. One charming moment is when Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) expresses his artistic intent of shooting in black and white by citing that the current colour scheme is rubbish.
I wish the movie had more moments like this. But as it stands, Clerks III coasts on its wistful spirit, occasional goofiness (particularly in regard to Elias converting from a Christian to a Satanist) and excellent use of music. The highlight is the opening sequence that depicts a day in the life of the Clerks (via various medium shots) to The Black Parade by Chemical Romance. The mix is sublime moments of melancholy at the Clerk’s tedious day-to-day job and playfulness with their rooftop hockey antics. It’s an excellent reminder of how Smith defiantly makes movies to the beat of his drum with tenderness and gusto.