Clerks (1994) (R)

What "The Breakfast Club" did for the highschool movie, "Clerks" did for the independent film. Kevin Smith's movie about young adults who have problems (the main characters ring true of the teenagers in "Stranger Than Paradise) has one of the largest cult followings of any film that can be brought to mind.
While the praise for "Clerks" precedes it, it's also key to keep an open mind when watching the film, which is anything from flawless.
Quentin Tarantino's influence on film is not hard to spot when you watch "Clerks" which takes after "Pulp Fiction" in a few ways. We have interconnected stories; vulgar, yet perceptive dialogue that permeates the screen; and the facade of nothingness.
Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is called into work at a convenience store on his day off. He's supposed to play roller-hockey later in the day and is not happy about the arrangement, but agrees on the condition that his boss come and reprieve him at noon.
At the store, someone has stuck gum into the locks, so Dante hangs a make-shift sign on the door that reads "I assure you, we are open"...which, coincidentally, leads everyone to poke their head in the door and ask "you open?".
Dante's girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) comes over before she heads off to a college classes and they have a quarrel over the number of exes that they both have. From the beginning, Kevin Smith's script is remarkably nuanced, yet his actors are a far cry from professional. There are moments when his cast gets so weary of their lines that it begins to feel like some botched high-school theater production. The movie obviously had no money to work with so the low-budget feel is expected...what isn't expected is the dedication of the actors to the long, single-take shots.
As Dante goes through his day, we begin to think that the film is just a sampling of one piece of oddity to the next, eventually adding up to the sum of life. The movie is optimistic, though its degradation of morality might suggest otherwise. The film is both loved and hated for its source material, which rarely treats its subjects with gentleness or (for lack of a better word, though I cringe when I type it) chivalry.
The film's seedy support is actually its highest achievement. The sex, drugs, and booze is fairly rare to see in the movie, yet it consumes the entirety of the minds of our characters.
As it nears the midday hour, Randal (Jeff Anderson) shows up to open up the video rental store next door to the convenience shop. Randal is the film's muse and also one of its more amazingly frustrating characters. Randal has the decency to masquerade as a nihilist, without actually committing to the idea that everything means nothing.
He and Dante have long conversations about deep subjects that somehow always leads its way back to sex and Caitlin.
Dante's ex, Caitlin, is getting married and he's super mad about it because he has security issues and some skeletons in the closet.
For the most part plotless, "Clerks" works well because it's shot well and because of the script. The characters are vibrant, original voices, even if the cast isn't always in tip-top form.
Kevin Smith cast himself as Silent Bob, one of two drug dealers that hangs around the convenience store. This movie, as his cast of zany followers have made him a house-hold name, though his true artistry and influence is under question here.
Whatever..."Clerks" is likable if nothing else.

Score: ★★★

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