Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clerks II (2006)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Clerks II (2006)

The follow up to Kevin Smith's breakthrough comedy 'Clerks' is in many ways more of the same but with a bigger budget and more contemporary pop culture references. A decade after the first film, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and his lifelong buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson) work as clerks at Mooby's, a fast food restaurant, under the supervision of their boss Becky (Rosario Dawson). Dante is finally moving on with his life by marrying a woman named Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) and moving out of New Jersey to work as a manager with her dad's company. The film takes place during his last day, as he deals with the implications of getting married to a woman who loves him but doesn't understand him while leaving behind his best friend and the woman who does understand him - Becky. Randal, still full of vindictive vitriol, has trouble coping with the imminent departure of his friend. Meanwhile Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) hang out outside Mooby's selling drugs. The drama between these characters plays out against the backdrop of working life at Mooby's, with various customers coming in during the day and being subjected to their antics.

'Clerks II' is a funny film. Visually it looks a far cry from the static camera work of the 94 original (not a criticism per se, it was low budget after all), but it still feels like a natural continuation of that story. It's mostly chuckle worthy but there are some but gusting moments in there as well. And it's definitely as crude and rude as the original. One of the problems with it, though, is that it feels too much like a retread, only with older characters. Twenty something guys living irresponsibly and immersing themselves in pop culture and crude conversations while under pressure to do something with their lives was a premise one could relate to and empathize with. When they're in their thirties, not so much. These guys haven't grown at all as people - they're still doing the same jobs and having the same conversations, and the only change on the horizon is a miraculous out for Dante by way of marriage. As a concept, I think this film needed to be tweaked and changed, because it feels too familiar.

The conclusion of the film is also one I'm mixed about - while it ends with the characters taking on more responsibility, it also ends with them being in a very similar situation, accepting their lot in life. This is portrayed as a happy ending. I can appreciate that conventional notions of happiness - having a well paying, 'important' job - aren't some kind of panacea that everyone should blindly seek, and the film does dare to be different by flagrantly eschewing these notions. BUT, I can't help but be disappointed that the characters haven't really shown any personal growth or maturity either. Is that something to be embraced? Is it OK to strive to be a man-child for your entire life? Should these guys still be talking Star Wars and crude humour and nothing else during their twilight years? I'm not saying they shouldn't talk about them (I probably will be), but aren't they ever going to broaden their horizons and talk about other things as well? Mind you I'm not really criticizing the film for having this perspective, and my feelings towards the ending are purely subjective; in fact, I'd have to say it has given me something to think about!

As a writer and director, Kevin Smith has obviously matured (even if his sense of humour hasn't, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view) since the original and this film is stylistically worlds apart (let's face it, it's hard to say that the first film had any kind of style). The writing feels familiar though, but contemporized to incorporate new fodder for discussion. Still, I don't think it's quite as funny as the original. Also familiar are O'Halloran and Anderson, who are still the not so great actors they were in 1994. This was fine back then, but in this movie they play alongside the terrific Rosario Dawson who is simply in a different league, and they look a bit amateur as a result. Particularly O'Halloran, who has to play off of her in quite a few scenes.

All in all, 'Clerks II' is pretty good and worth watching if you even remotely enjoyed the original. Kevin Smith fans will love it - I think he definitely knows how to please his loyal followers. I had hoped to see something more but am fairly satisfied with the final result. As you may have guessed, I'm not the biggest Kevin Smith fan, but I generally like his movies and I love 'Chasing Amy', which I think is still his best film.

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