(A quick aside before my review. I watched this movie Thursday before I went to bed. and then I went to a Fleetwood Mac concert on Friday and I worked open to close shifts Saturday and Sunday. I’ve only just now had a chance to sit down and write this review. I also have to review Django Unchained which I watched at my dad’s when I got home from work Saturday (and then immediately went to bed after it ended. So, if this particular review seems short, it’s only because I want to save my energy for the more complex Django.)
Despite his often sophomoric sense of humor, Kevin Smith is one of my favorite writer/directors of all time. Obviously, I don’t actually think he’s one of the best, but his particular brand of pop-culture humor and existential crises speaks to me on a fairly intense level. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Chasing Amy is my third favorite film of all time (behind Annie Hall and Pulp Fiction). Beneath the dick jokes and the literal shit humor (I’m looking at you, “chocolate pretzel” scene from Mallrats), Kevin Smith usually has something insightful to say about the rat race, love, and coming to terms with our own possibilities. 12 years is a really long time to wait for a sequel, but Kevin Smith’s long-anticipated follow-up to Clerks may not have the freshness and sense of wonder it had a decade ago, but Clerks II makes up for it with a surprisingly touching tale of male friendship that had me in tears after my first viewing.
Taking place over a decade after the original film, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall’s (Jeff Anderson) lives are different but, at the same time, not much has changed at all. The Quick Stop has burned down and the duo have moved on to the only thing lower on the service industry totem pole than retail. They now work in fast food at a Mooby’s Burger (a chain Dogma fans should recognize). The movie begins on Dante’s last day before he moves to Florida with his fiancee to start a new life and leave Randall behind. Dante doesn’t really love his girlfriend though; in fact, his true feelings lie with his boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson), who he once had a one night stand with. As the clock ticks down to Dante’s last day in Jersey, Randall begins to truly feel the loss of his best friend, and Dante must choose if he should do what society wants or live his life the way that will that make him happiest.
Clearly, Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson aren’t great actors. It’s why we haven’t seen them in many films outside of the View Askewniverse (the interconnected world where all of Kevin Smith’s Jersey films take place), but I could never imagine another pair playing Randall and Dante. Perhaps, they simply aren’t playing characters too far removed from themselves prior to the success of Clerks, but Brian O’Halloran in particular captures the weariness that comes with working in the service fields (I’ve only been doing it for three years in two different jobs and it already makes me hate people). If he seemed beat down and cynical in Clerks, by Clerks II, he’s turned into almost a shell of his former shelf. And, props must be giving to Jeff Anderson for his willingness to really sell the filth and vulgarity that is Randall, but when he’s required to have his big emotional climax, Anderson nails the basic humanity of the character.
The film’s best performance though was arguably Rosario Dawson whose smart and put-together Becky is a side of low-wage life you rarely see, the person who gets trapped and never allowed to escape despite their talents. She too has her own weariness and concerns (as you find out throughout the film), and Rosario’s natural charm made it easy to see why Dante might be willing to give up his whole life for a girl like her. And the film, in true Kevin Smith fashion, had a bevy of wonderful supporting performances. Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Ben Affleck, and others all make appearances, and even Jason Mewes seems like he has more to do than usual as the always obnoxious (but weirdly funny) Jay.
Like I said, I also want to review Django Unchained tonight (and I see that review eclipsing 1500 words or so) so let me end this review on a couple of notes. Clerks II is hilarious. I’ve seen this film at least a dozen times, and I still laughed my ass of the entire run time of the film. But, in addition to its deliciously low-brow sensibilities (all of the scenes where Randall tortures his Christian, nerdy coworker Elias spring to mind), Clerks II has the most heart of any Kevin Smith film whose name isn’t Chasing Amy. It’s the rare film where you may literally laugh and cry. Apparently, Kevin Smith is at work on a Clerks 3, and if it ever sees the light of day, I can only hope it’s half as good as this now classic 2000s comedy.
Final Score: A-