Spitting Water at Life (Movie Review of Clerks)

Defeated.

I remember the first time I saw Clerks was in 2015 while I was in a dysfunctional relationship and needed to get away for a weekend from my partner. I felt closed in, trapped and heartbroken but yet I also wanted to fix everything and make it better as well. I remember feeling like I could have lived where I was staying for a night instead of going back home.

That night I watched a movie I had heard of but never seen: Clerks.

My host had fallen asleep on his couch long before it ended but I managed to stay awake for the whole film and enjoyed it. I loved its philosophical spirit, its prankster attitude, its glamorization of the slacker and so on. I enjoyed the humor, the low-budget but authentic feel of the movie, the acting from everyone was solid and even the “plot” was interesting.

Cut to the present and two years later I still very much appreciate Clerks. It likely deserves all of the accolades you’ve heard for it. Most fitting is the title of “cult classic” which, given Clerks low-budget and “small-time” focus, it surely deserves. There are classic scenes in this movie, my favorite of which being the Death Start contractors. Seriously, if you only see one scene from this movie or want to watch one scene to get an idea of how good it is, this is it.

But even aside from the nerdy dialogue and the biting humor in this movie, the acting is genuinely great. We can really feel the struggles of our main character (though hardly hero, Brian O’Halloran) Dante. Dante lives a fairly depressing and uncontrolled life in which he comes into work on a day he’s not even scheduled…after closing the night before.

Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) plays something akin to Dante’s conscience, constantly interrogating his beliefs about the world and who is really to blame for his choices. Is Dante blameless for coming in and is the world as “epic” and dramatic as Dante acts (according to Randal anyhow)? In my view, Randal is not only the conscience but something of an existentialist as well. He constantly criticizes Dante for acting in bad faith, e.g. not taking responsibility for his actions.

After all did Dante have to come in on a day when he wasn’t scheduled?

No, of course not. But we never really get Dante’s side of the story other than he seems to be a push over. Maybe he thought if he didn’t the boss would hold it against him and fire him? Maybe he really needed the money? These would be valid reasons but Dante never mentions anything (at least that I heard) to explain why he showed up in the first place.

In that sense, the movie follows a bit of an absurdist tone. One thing follows from another and you almost couldn’t believe that none of it was planned by the people involved. Hockey gets played on a roof, a chewing gum representative makes an enticing argument about quitting smoking, a man counts store bought eggs for over a half-hour, etc.

The meditations on work are there but mostly come from Randal’s prying. Dante is fine just leaving well enough alone and staying in his comfort zone. But ultimately the film wants us to see that staying in our comfort zone (especially when it comes to situations we hate) is no way to live. Or maybe it is the way if (like Randal) you’re truly satisfied.

But of course, Dante isn’t satisfied. He knows he doesn’t want to go to school but he also doesn’t want to quit his job. I’m surprised they didn’t go for the angle of Dante wanting to play hockey. Though on the other hand, I suppose Dante is a bit out of shape…though he’d deny it vehemently.

In any case, Randal (for me) is the real start of the movie. He’s the slacker, the conscience of Dante and he makes some excellent points throughout the film about taking responsibility and forging your own destiny. It’s worth noting though that Randal underestimates the forces of the world and the weights they can impress upon you. As far as we (the viewers) can tell, Dante goes in…just because he feels he has to. But there could be real situations in which he really does have little choice but to go in (rent is due soon and he is short on cash, etc.).

Randal works in the convenience store alongside Dante but also works at the next door video rental store. He’s a slacker who often disrespects customers, watches porno, sits around and does nothing and generally does whatever he can to pass the time, besides work. For at least much of Randal and what he does, I can appreciate him and what he stands for (“title doesn’t dictate behavior”) but the way he does it leaves something to be desired.

I don’t respect my title or the people who have assigned me it. But at the end of the day, taking it out on customers won’t do anything for me (except maybe get me fired) and won’t help my ambition to slack off. If anything, speaking or acting rudely to customers is more likely to cause them to give me trouble so then I’ll have more to deal with.

So while I enjoy a lot of Randal and what he’s aiming for, I think his methods are often counter-productive to his ends. Though I have to say that he seems like the happiest throughout the film and most satisfied with his life. He knows where he is at, what he is worth and how to use all of that to the best of his advantage.

Ultimately the movie gives the philosophical slacker in you plenty to chew on. And it gives a few big laughs alongside some chuckles here and there too. I also want to give special mention to Marilyn Ghigliotti (who plays Veronica) for her outstanding acting during the last bit of the film, her anger was on damn point.

There’s some discussion about sex and relationships that’s mildly interesting and plays out well enough. But for me, Clerks will always be more about the head scratching than Dante’s love life.

Speaking of which…is it just me…does anyone else think Randal is into Dante?


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