Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Clerks III

Josh Reviews Clerks III

Back in 1994, Kevin Smith launched his career with the funny and innovative Clerks.  Filmed at night in the very same convenience store where Mr. Smith worked, and made for a teensy tiny budget (basically paid for by Mr. Smith’s maxing out his own credit cards), Clerks was a wonderfully unique film that I think holds up rather well, even when watched several decades later.  

In 2006, Mr. Smith wrote and directed a sequel, Clerks II.  I have some warmth for that sequel, but I don’t think it entirely worked, and at the time it felt like a retreat for Mr. Smith, who had announced the end of his View Askewniverse connected Films with 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  But following the failure of 2004’s Jersey Girl, Mr. Smith returned to his familiar characters with Clerks II.

Now, almost two decades after that unexpected sequel, Mr. Smith has decided to check in once again with these charcters with Clerks III.  The film is getting a very limited theatrical release.  I saw it via one of Fathom Events’ screenings.

The same amount of time has passed for us and for the characters.  As the film opens, we meet back up with Dante and Randall, who remain at the Quick Stop, a tiny convenience store in New Jersey.  As of the end of Clerks II, they now own the store, but otherwise it doesn’t seem that too much has changed.  (One major difference is that, as we saw in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, the RST video store where Randall used to hold court has closed; instead, the stoner duo of Jay and Silent Bob now run a legal weed business out of there.)  But when Randall suffers a “widowmaker” heart attack (as Mr. Smith did in real life in 2018), he decides the time has come to make a change.  After a lifetime watching movies, he’s decided to make one.  And so, just as Mr. Smith did back in 1992, Randall decides to write a movie set in the Quick Stop, based on all his experiences working there.

I have a large fondness for Dante and Randall, and also for Jay and Silent Bob.  So while Clerks II felt to me in 2006 like a step back for Mr. Smith, here in 2023 I was delighted by the prospect of checking in again with these characters, to see how their lives had/hadn’t changed.  

I was not disappointed!  While I do have some complaints, overall I was quite happy with Clerks III.  I think the meta overall story (of Randall’s making a Clerks-like film, which he calls Inconvenience) is very clever, and it’s a pleasure to spend more time back with these characters.  I wrote in my review of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot that I thought it was Kevin Smith’s best film in two decades, and Clerks III is even better.  It improves on several areas where I felt Jay and Silent Bob Reboot suffered: Clerks III looks a lot better (Learan Kahanov does nice work as the cinematographer), it felt better edited (with a tighter comedic rhythm), and the score is vastly better (even though it’s by the same composer, James L. Venable). 

I was a big fan of all of Mr. Smith’s early run of films, from Clerks through Jay and Silent Bon Strike Back.  But then he made a bunch of films that I thought were OK but missing the magic of his earlier movies (Jersey Girl, Clerks II, Zack and Miri make a Porno)… and by the time we arrived at 2014’s Tusk (which did not work at all for me), I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep watching Mr. Smith’s films.  But I thought 2020’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was a fun return to the types of films of Mr. Smith’s that I used to enjoy, and I think Clerks III is even stronger.

As I noted above, the film looks great.  (Well, great for a Kevin Smith film.  It for sure looks a LOT better than the flat-looking Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), and (for the most part), I thought the film was very funny while also giving us the type of relatively realistic character development that I was hoping for.  That balance has been the key to Mr. Smith’s best films, and for the most part that skill is in play here.

I’ve always enjoyed the acting of Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson as Dante and Randall.  OK, these might not be the two best actors of our time, but I think they are quietly and sneakily very good.  They’re both particularly terrific at delivering Kevin Smith’s dialogue.  I love Mr. Smith’s dialogue, but it can be a lot of words and not every actor is able to handle it.  Mr. O’Halloran and Mr. Anderson have made it look easy in every movie in which they’ve appeared.

I was very happy with how the film handled Jay and Silent Bob.  They’re both in the movie a lot, but they don’t overshadow Dante and Randall.  This is not a Jay and Bob movie, and so they are rightly used mostly as comedic relief.  I have never not enjoyed the pairing of Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, and they’re still a hoot to watch here.  (I was a little distracted by Mr. Mewes’ glaring white teeth, huge up on the big screen, but in 2022 I shouldn’t be commenting on any actor’s physical appearance, should I?)

I thought the Elias character, introduced in Clerks II, was that film’s major misstep.  I don’t fault actor Trevor Fehrman; I think the character was misconceived.  Elias was too weird, too socially inept, too pitiable.  (In the original Clerks, Dante and Randall were nerds for sure, and they were not exactly societally housebroken.  But they were three-dimensional characters who were still recognizable as relatively “normal” human beings.  Elias was too far afield from that, in my opinion, so most of his “comedy” fell flat for me.)  While I laughed to see Elias reintroduced in Clerks III singing along in the car (mimicking his Clerks II intro), I was worried when he reentered the picture.  Thankfully, Mr. Smith and Mr. Fehrman adjusted Elias just enough that I found him to be a far more entertaining character here.  Actually, the repeated sight gag of his escalatingly weird outfits in the film was one of my favorite jokes in the entire movie!

I am glad Rosario Dawson (who entered this world as Becky in Clerks II) was in the film, but I wish she had a more major role.  She’s spectacular in her few scenes.  I miss her energy in the rest of the movie, and I don’t like the choice Kevin Smith made for her character.  I frankly don’t get it.  Was this done because Ms. Dawson wasn’t available to be in more of the movie?  Was it done because he wanted to keep Dante basically where he had always been as a character (as opposed to showing him married with kids)?  As someone who loves Dante, I don’t like how Mr. Smith pulled the rug out from under Dante as a character, wiping out the happy ending of Clerks II.

This brings me to the two places where I think Clerks III doesn’t work for me.  I love that in most of Mr. Smith’s films he has allowed the characters, and the films themselves, to wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Ever since Clerks, Mr. Smith has brought a lot of snarky nerd humor to the screen… but he’s also allowed his characters to experience big emotions.  I love that, while at the same time I think it’s been something of a running problem in many of Mr. Smith’s films that the tones of the silly comedy and the big dramatic moments have sometimes bumped up against one another.  I’ve often felt some whiplash as an audience member when watching these films; I’ve often felt the shifts were too abrupt when suddenly the jokes vanished and we’d find ourselves in a Big Emotional Moment.  I first remember feeling that way when watching 1997’s Chasing Amy, and there were times in Clerks III when I felt the same way.  Dante and Randall have several big arguments in the film, and I felt those were just a little too harsh, a little too angry.  I understand Mr. Smith’s desire to let his actors lean into the drama, but I wish he’d pulled them back just a little bit.  As fans of these characters, I don’t like seeing them so angry with one another.  And as an audience member watching the film, I wish it didn’t feel like those scenes were from a different movie.  (I particularly object to a scene, late in the film, after Dante is unable to walk back into a Mooby’s because of hard memories from there.  We see that Randall notices Dante has left, and I thought that Randall would be the only one who understands what his BFF is going through.  Instead, Mr. Smith has Randall act his most oblivious and mean, and I really hated that choice.  I wanted to believe that Randall had grown more as a character over the decades we’d been watching him.  It felt like the wrong choice for the character, one made for a plot reason that Mr. Smith needed Dante and Randall to be at odds at that point in the film, rather than being a choice that felt right for the character.)

Which brings me to my second main problem with the film: I hate the ending.  I really disliked the last 10-15 minutes of the film.  I’m going to try to tread lightly here, but definitely let me mark a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for this paragraph.  Don’t read this unless you’ve already seen the film, OK?  Still here?  Ok.  Look, I would be hard pressed to thing of any legacy sequel film which has depicted the death of major heroic character that has made me happy.  I am all for drama and I am all for a downer ending.  But when I’ve been watching a character for years, I invest in them, and ultimately in these cases I’m rooting for a happy ending.  I’m hard pressed to think of a death of a major character in a franchise that worked.  Maybe Spock in Star Trek II?  (And even he was brought back.). The death of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations certainly didn’t work, and I wasn’t wild about the deaths of Han, Luke and Leia in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  (I understand Leia’s fate was out of their hands, of course.)  I did not want to see the death of one of the Clerks!  It’s just not what I wanted.  I think Kevin Smith let his desire to be able to depict a big dramatic, emotional moment for these characters overwhelm what we as audience members wanted to see for these characters.  What really sinks the ending for me was that last shot of Randall back behind the counter at the Quick Stop.  After all this, Randall was right back where he started??  That made me so sad!!  Over the end credits, Mr. Smith talks to the audience, and I loved listening to him.  What’s interesting is that he reads from the end of his script, which describes a much happier ending for Randall, in which his film was successful (as Kevin Smith’s film Clerks was) and Randall continued making movies until he died at a ripe old age.  Wow, that’s a much better ending!!  I wish that had actually been depicted on screen!!!  It’s nice to hear it over the end credits, but I think Mr. Smith miscalculated in not actually showing us some of that before the credits rolled.  I think Mr. Smith thought he’d made a happy ending, for Randall at least (Mr. Smith has spoken in interviews about wanting to give to his Clerks characters the type of gift that those characters gave to him in real life) but that’s not at all how it played for me, and that’s a bummer.

Other thoughts:

  • I was delighted to see Marilyn Ghigliotti back, reprising her role from Clerks as Veronica!  She was great.  What a pleasure to have her back in the View Askewniverse!
  • Amy Sedaris was fantastic as Randall’s goofy heart doctor.  She had a lot of great lines, and she hit the tone of her comedy just right, being very funny but also plausible that she could actually be a highly-skilled physician.
  • Justin Long, a frequent performer in Mr. Smith’s films, was very funny as always, in this case playing the droll orderly when Randall is in the hospital.
  • I was over the moon happy to see so many of the people who’d appeared as the customers in Clerks (who were mostly non-actors!) back here in this film so many decades later, reprising their roles for Randall’s film!!
  • I also loved seeing Mr. Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, step into the shoes of the character played by Mr. Smith’s mother, as the woman checking all the milk at the Quick Stop.  That was very clever.
  • I quite enjoyed Ben Affeck’s one scene; he laid it on super-thick with his over-the-top Boston accent, and I loved every second of it.
  • It was also great fun to see so many other funny people pop up in small roles, including Fred Armisen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Melissa Benoist, Marc Bernardin, Anthony Michael Hall, Danny Trejo, and lots more.

I’m very happy how much I enjoyed Clerks III.  I guess this is, at last, the end of the road for these characters… but I would not object if we returned to them again, a few years down the line…!!

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