Clerks [retro review]

rclerks“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

The Scoop: 1994 R, directed by Kevin Smith and starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Kevin Smith

Tagline: Just because they serve you doesn’t mean they like you.

Summary: Two convenience store clerks compain, moan, and break up funerals.

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Kym’s Rating: Five out of four bottles of Gatorade (if you can find some)

Kym’s Review: Clerks is by far one of the best movies that I have ever seen. It’s satiric, hysterically funny, true-to-life, and massively entertaining.

This movie follows a day in the life of Randal (a video store clerk) and Dante (a convenience store clerk). These guys deal with everything including sex, incompetent customers, sex, death, sex, the truth behind Return of the Jedi and sex. The dialouge is incredibly witty and wonderful and just about the entire movie is quotable (I find myself making Clerks references constantly).

I think, though, that the biggest reason I got a kick out of this movie was because I could relate so well to it. After serving my time as an under-paid, hating-my-job clerk in both a video store and a grocery store, it was good to see a film where my true feelings about the customers were revealed (what I wouldn’t do to be able to spit at some of these people!). A word of warning though, if you offend easily, this movie is definitely not for you. The language is pretty vulgar and some of the subject matter could be considered highly offensive. If you don’t get offended easily, and have an open mind, try this one on for size. I assure you, you’ll love it.

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Justin’s Rating: At least seven out of New Jersey’s nine Rings of Hell

Justin’s Review: I don’t know about you, but I really hate getting compared to famous celebrities and/or famous movie characters. Everyone says that I look like Dante (or, Silent Bob) from Clerks. I hope not. Got enough personality complexes as it is. But, onto the movie!

Clerks, Kevin Smith’s directorial debut, is a masterpiece of showing how dull, gritty, and pointless life is in New Jersey. Get out while you can, Jersians! When this came out in ’94 or so, Clerks swept the indie and college circuit with its hilarious settings, relatability to the main characters, and the incredibly quotable dialogue. My first time watching this, in high school, I was so embarrassed by the vulgarities used (Clerks paints with swear words like some artists do with watercolor) that I couldn’t get past the first half hour. I think it’s because I didn’t want my parents walking into the room right at the point where one character explains, exactly, what “snowballing” is. *shudder*

Dante and his friend Randal are clerks at two small, side-by-side stores and happen to hate their jobs intensely… just in different ways. Over the course of a day, these two yap about life, the ornery nature of customers, and Star Wars, making this whole movie more of a series of amusing anecdotes than any coherent plotline.

I have a personal affinity for this film having worked as both a video and retail salesperson, sick to death of the job and the really inane customers that made me work. Clerks is a no-holds-barred look at the other side of the counter: the frustrations, the demeaning roles, and the petty revenge on the petty customers. This is all presented with macabre glee, and despite the crudity, it is a joy to watch. This is how life is, at least in New Jersey, and I speak from personal observation.

There is no happy ending here, just the end of a day, and we the viewers get the impression that tomorrow will be the same. Filmed in black and white. For mature (or immature) audiences only. Don’t miss the “Chewbacca” song. What a Wookie.

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PoolMan’s Rating: For every five lost pucks in this world, this movie is responsible for four. (did that make any sense?)

PoolMan’s Review: I watched the Kevin Smith Trilogy in entirely the wrong order. I saw Mallrats. I liked it. I saw Chasing Amy. I loved it. I saw Clerks. I was okay with it. And though I feel a little guilty in view of the other Mutants’ reviews (I’m sure they will have me drawn and quartered for this), I think it’s actually the weakest of the three.

Although I would never look down on a movie simply for being in black and white, Clerks’ constant grey imagery didn’t strike me as required or symbolic, it just struck me as grey. Right away, I felt this took a lot of energy out of the movie — and when you have a movie that’s about depressed and pissed-off people, why would you do something to take even more energy AWAY? That and the fact that the characters (ASIDE from Dante, and a few bit players like the old Jewish guy) constantly gave me that uncomfortable “I’m reading a script” feeling. I felt like I was back in high school doing French dialogs. Right away, you have two points which, to me, give it a feeling of flatness (though I do applaud any movie nowadays that doesn’t use Hollywood stars to pump a movie up… the nonamers in this film DO have their moments). Unlike the exciting running around in Mallrats, this movie tends to stand still, and you spend a lot of time watching the same scene.

But I am remiss! I do not want to paint this movie black; I’m being a little comparative to its brethren. This movie is a good one, it really is. I’ve seen so much crap lately that it’s nice to see something that tells it like it is. And that’s this movie’s big strength, is its honesty. Take a good look at the world, people, and prepare to watch some really pissed-off people spit in its face! I just think it falls short of where its “sequels” go.

I was VERY impressed with the dialog scenes between Dante and (insert character name here) that went on for like five minutes before a break in the camera shot. THAT is great acting, and very convincing. Unfortunately, again, you end up looking at the same scene for ages… But the Smith Conversations begin here, right from whether it’s acceptable that your girlfriend has been into the pants of 37 men, to how on earth a man dies with an erection. Way cool.

Anyways, that’s my view, take it or leave it… Oh, I see you left it. Good for you!

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Toni’s Rating: 5 out of 5 perfect eggs

Toni’s Review: Well I don’t think I’ll do a plot recap for Clerks. There are already (faint sounds of counting) three other reviews here and if you want another plot recap, you’re just plain greedy. So suffer.

Don’t look at me that way! Arg! all right, a five second overview then. Randal, Dante, dialog, 37, stupid customers, porn, roof hockey, casket tossing, and twisted sex. You know you want to see this.

The big selling point for me is the “true to life”-ness of this film, and it shines through even if you’ve never worked a day in your life and never stepped foot in a big bad ol’ city. What I mean is, I could relate. I could see myself randomly screaming “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” during a really bad day. I could see myself accidentally knocking over an occupied casket and then fleeing because, really, how do you apologize for something like that? I have made salsa sharks. Yes, the acting is weak (read: obvious) at times and it’s in black and white but don’t let that bother you. I promise you won’t even notice after your first laughing fit. Berserker!

Oh, and I want Silent Bob.

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Sue’s Rating: No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Sue’s Review: I have a confession to make. I understand the movie Clerks because… I am one. Yes, it’s true. Granted, I’ve moved up the ladder from slack-jawed flunky to upper management, but the sad fact is that I’m allowed to use whatever job title I want as long as it doesn’t cost the boss anything extra. Last week for instance, I was the General Manager. This week I’m the Manager General, because I think it sounds tougher in a Patton-esque sort of way. Next week I’m trying to decide between Supreme Executive Commander or Grand Duchess of Soggy Coffee Grounds. They both have a certain allure, don’t they?

But no matter how I dress it up, I’ve spent the past six years schlepping around in what could easily be mistaken for a Kevin Smith movie, if only I woiked in Joisey.

From that experience, I humbly submit that I am more than qualified to judge the accuracy and veracity of Smith’s version of life as I know it.

My verdict? Guilty as charged.

The two featured clerks in the movie, Dante and Randal portray the ying and the yang of clerkishness. (Clerkocity? Clerkademia?) Dante, for the most part, represents the dutiful and somewhat put-upon cash register jockeys that we — that is to say, my cashier compatriots and I — really are. Dante’s most realistic height of rebellion is surreptitiously dropping a nasty customer’s car keys into the garbage. And okay, he does close the store for twenty minutes or so to play hockey. Naughty boy. There’s a trip to a wake too, but I’m going to overlook that because t’was silly and I don’t think it belonged. Sorry Kevin. Otherwise, he’s relatively polite to the customers and fairly conscientious — he’s even seen counting inventory in one scene! Better yet, he can be coerced into working on his day off and believe it or not, he’s vastly more qualified in his job than our current part-time guy. I’d hire him without hesitation.

Video store employee (and I use that word very loosely) Randal, on the other hand, is the personification of our fondest dreams. He puts into word and action what goes through our heads when we deal with consumer stupidity of criminal proportions. He curses, he spits, he offends without hesitation or remorse. He has the witty comebacks that we don’t usually think of until three hours after our target has left the building. He’s the little guy with the red cape and pitchfork that sits on our shoulders and whispers seductively of sweet retaliation.

Now, as far as I know, I’m a fairly well adjusted sort of person. Kids and animals like me, I give generously to the charities of my choice and I am polite and courteous almost to a fault. Having said that, I am conscious of a growing element of suppressed rage (or at least dull horror) in my psyche directed at the mass stupidity that meanders through my workplace door — often wielding a crumpled printout from Mapquest and a super-sized state of denial.

Clerks speaks directly to that. Have I been pelted with merchandise? Yes. Have I been yelled at because our coffee is… perish the thought… hot? Frequently. Have I had customers subject me to long-winded monologues about things that I neither know nor care about? Twice a day on average. Have I seen women pick through the milk in search of the farthest possible expiration date? Sure. Do my patrons ever behave in bizarre ways? How about the vagrant we gave a cup of coffee to and he repaid our kindness by running around in the driveway heroically (or psychotically) protecting us by “catching bullets” in his bare hands? I think that qualifies as a resounding you betcha.

Yes, Kevin speaks to me in my language. Watching this movie gives me the same excruciating sense of satisfaction that a seven-year-old gets from picking at an infected scab.

But, and I touched on this briefly already, Clerks falls short in that it deviates from the chaos of customer service in ways that I find unnecessary. Believe me, there’s more than enough fodder in the store to keep the movie rolling along without the need for field trips.

Kevin, have your people call my people. We have a lot to talk about.

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Nancy’s Rating: Five out of five jobs I didn’t have.

Nancy’s Review: This movie always lightens my mood. For two reasons – 1) I never had that job. I probably will, in fact, most definitely will, but let’s bask in the rays of optimism for a sec here. *I don’t have a joooob! I don’t have a joooob!* (That’s the song I sing). 2) I know, that even in one of the most horrible career paths, The Clerk, there are still rays of joy to be found amongst the Gatorade and porno aisle.

That’s right, I’m a-talking about Randal.

Randal is the little bug on our protagonist Dante’s shoulder, the sound always buzzing around in his ear, pushing him deeper and deeper into his pit of depression. He’s making jokes at Dante’s expense and spewing his stupid and yet strangely compelling life philosophies on his buddy, who just wants to make it through the day. Randal eats and he exists solely to fulfill his own desires and reap as many rewards as he can squeeze out of a measly existence. He’s a man seeking pleasure, and who knows that one can be genuinely lazy and still manage to make a few dollars. He gets through another day and rests excessively to survive the next one. He’s kind of Dionysian, if you want to put him in a positive light.

Did you know Dionysus turned male suitors into dolphins? That’s funny!

Okay, well Clerks is a fantastic film for all the right reasons. It’s dry, it’s freakin’ hilarious, it’s pessimistic while having shining rays of optimism come through and it‘s pretty badass (THEY PLAY HOCKEY ON THE ROOF! Makes ya wanna be a hooligan!). But the optimism…that’s where our own cult-y Dionysus comes in (I realize the comparison is a stretch, but let’s roll with it). He’s savors good times! He realizes the world is crap, but he takes solace in the hermaphrodite porn, in the knocking-over-of-caskets, in the hockey and Gatorade, and most of all! – in having fun at the expense of others.

This movie is drab to some, but I find it inspiring the way Randal acknowledges his life is currently crap and there ain’t nothing he can do about it ‘cept eat some salsa. I find that inspiring. And if he’s enjoying the salsa, hey, whose to say his life isn’t worth something?? I…I just fricken love the character of Randal.

And for our protagonist, Dante? Well, life’s little misfortunes keep coming his way, but this does not make me cringe in pity for him. It simply makes me laugh and simultaneously get extremely irritated by his pessimistic behavior. I say, lighten up, sir! Love your current girlfriend and stop whining about the fact that your job sucks. I don’t have much sympathy for whiny characters (see High Fidelity), probably because I, myself, am pretty whiny, and I don’t like to see Negative Nancy displayed on screen.

Anyway, the other characters: Veronica is a cool, smart lady who gets mistreated. Caitlyn is a manipulative little bi-otch, whose motives are often oddly understandable. Jay’s annoying to the point that you pity him, and Silent Bob’s silent to the point where you revere him. Yeah…each one of us has one of these people in our lives. And I’m sure each one of us can identify with one of them. The main characters in this film are people you know – they’re your friends, you’re close to them, you’re weird with them and you complain with them. The side characters are the kooky personas you encounter as you make your way through life. They have their own personalities and interesting psyches underneath all that kooky, just like your friends do. But on the surface, they’re just weird. And all you can do is laugh with your friends about them, and try not to get too pissed-off at how annoying they are.

And when they get to be a bit too much, you put in Clerks, eat salsa, and relish the fact that you’re one of the ‘in’ people. You’re pissed-off at stupidity, and that lets you into this little club of irritated, witty clerks, trying to get through a day and finding it to be incredibly hard. Funny, but hard.

Getting through a day is weird and funny, but it can be really really hard. And in my experience, watching Clerks at the end of it makes less hard, more funny. So, gather all your sarcastic friends, and brighten up your world with black and white. Rent Clerks to-day!

"YOU HAVE FAILED ME FOR THE LAST TIME, CAPTAIN NEEDA!"

"YOU HAVE FAILED ME FOR THE LAST TIME, CAPTAIN NEEDA!"

Intermission!

  • Sign on the counter: If you plan to shoplift, let us know. Thanks.
  • Independent contractors should never enter the employ of the Empire. Especially on Death Star projects.
  • A whole new way to define shell shock, as understood by guidance counselors. Milkmaids!
  • Jason Mewes was left off the cover and poster for because executives believed him to be too odd-looking for advertising.
  • There are nine breaks in the movie, possibly to represent the nine rings of hell.
  • When Dante asks Randal whether he’s ever thought about the fact that all prices always end in .99, most items behind them have a price that end in .95.
  • Jaws reference!
  • Blue Velvet reference!
  • Temple of Doom reference!
  • Filmed at the same store in which director Kevin Smith was working at the time. As he was only allowed to film outside of business hours, the plot included an explanation for the shutters being always down. Smith financed Clerks largely with credit cards, selling his comic book collection and money borrowed from family and friends.
  • The “Clerks” logo is made out of letters cut from various magazines and food items. The C is from Cosmopolitan Magazine, the L is from Life, the E is from Rolling Stone, the R is from Ruffles potato chips, the K is from Clark Bar and the S is from a Goobers box.
  • Randall and the Happy Scrappy Hero Pup lady are not actually in the room at the same time. Jeff Anderson refused to read the list of porno movies in front of her, and particularly in front of the child (although the reaction shots of the Happy Scrappy Hero Pup lady were obtained by reading the list to her).
  • Some left out scenes of “Clerks” include an alternate ending where a robber comes in at the end of the day, shoots and kills Dante, and loots the register. I’m glad they didn’t decide on this one. It was depressing enough.
  • Despite there being no violence in the film, it was originally given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA based solely on its graphic dialogue. The film’s distributor Miramax hired attorney Alan M. Dershowitz (of the O.J. Simpson defense team) who successfully petitioned the MPAA to lower its rating to R without any cuts.
  • Kevin Smith originally cast himself as Randal which is why Randal gets some of the best lines.
  • Dante and Randall discuss the morality of blowing up the Death Star while contractors were still working on it. In the commentary for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, George Lucas explains that the contractors for the Death Star were the bug-like Geonosians, so there was no need to worry about killing them.

Groovy Quotes

Customer: Hey, you seen a set of keys around here?
Randal: No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Dante: You ever notice how all the prices end in nine? Damn, that’s eerie!

Randal: I could do without the people in the video store.
Dante: Which ones?
Randal: All of them.
Customer #1: What would you get for a 6-year-old boy who chronically wets his bed?
Customer #2: Do have that one with that guy who was in that movie that came out last year?

Dante: 37!

Dante: Theoretically, people see money on the counter, and no one around, they think they’re being watched.
Veronica: Honesty through paranoia.

Dante: I’m not even supposed to be here today!

Randal: Salsa shark. We’re gonna need a bigger boat. Man goes into cage, cage goes into salsa, shark’s in the salsa.

Randal: There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?

Randal: I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of a ruling class. Especially since I rule.

Veronica: Try thinking for yourselves before you pelt a man with cigarettes!

Dante: I was making a broad generalization
Veronica: You were making a generalization about broads.

Randal: I’m a firm believer in a ruling class. Especially since I rule.

Randal: She broke your heart and inadvertently drove men to deviant lifestyles.

Randal: Do you think the average stormtrooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Randal: Everybody who comes in here is way too uptight.

Customer: Whaddya mean there’s no ice? You mean I have to drink this coffee hot?!

Dante: Would you let me maintain some semblance of managerial control here?

Dante: I’m not even supposed to be here today!

Customer: Cute cat. What’s its name?
Randal: Annoying Customer.

Dante: You are a danger to both the dead and the living.
Randal: I like to think I’m master of my own destiny.

Dante: You hate people!
Randal: But I love gatherings. Isn’t that ironic?

DVD Review

The Clerks Miramax Collector’s Series DVD is absolutely essential to any cult movie DVD collection. That’s a mouthful, ain’t it? Okay, so it’s not the slickest DVD out there, but it’s got a ton of goodies for any Clerks afficianado. There’s the trailer (that Kevin Smith says is his favorite trailer of all time), the infamous “alternate ending” scene, a number of deleted scenes (presented back-to-back), and film recommendations. This DVD really takes off with a music video for Soul Asylum (which is kinda a mini-Clerks movie in color with a lot of the actors), and then flies with the commentary. Kevin Smith and co. chat the film up with interesting facts, stories, and blabbings from a stoned Jay Mewes. Not as good as the Mallrats DVD, but very cherry nonetheless.

If you liked this movie, try these:

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