October 22nd, 2022
Title: Clerks III
Director: Kevin Smith
Release Date: October 14th, 2022 (streaming)
Format/Platform: Google Play
The long awaited sequel in the Clerks trilogy is a nice send off for the characters that we have come to love, adore or even scorn. Inspired by his real life health scare, Kevin Smith writes and directs a heartfelt entry that feels radically different than anything else he has made. It retains the goofy and irreverent humor of his previous films, but is more aware of it’s existence and place in the world. This entry is lighter on pithy one-liners and sex jokes, and focuses more on the characters and life at the Quick Stop convenience store. It takes us back, away from Mooby’s in the second film and to the series’ roots- just in time for a midlife existential crisis.
Returning from the earlier films are leads Dante (Brian O’Hallaran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson,) owning and managing the Quick Stop in Leonardo, New Jersey. They have now worked there for three decades, joined in their exploits by Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and a new, silent friend named Blockchain. Jay and Silent Bob also return- now owning a pot shop next door in the old video store. Even though marijuana is now legal to purchase in New Jersey, they still prefer to deal in front of the store like back in the old days. Their roles are greatly reduced, but still deliver great lines (and, refreshingly, are no longer either the recipient or deliverer of homophobic jokes and commentary.) Just as the first film, life is fairly boring and straightforward- dealing with rude customers and passing the days with witty banter about popular culture. Things are mixed up when Randall suffers a massive heart attack caused by an argument regarding NFT kites with Elias- he only has a 20% chance of surviving, but pulls through. He gains a new perspective on life and how he wasted his youth, and wants to make a movie based on his life working at the Quick Stop- to leave his legacy in some form.
The main conflict arises when Dante and Randall fight about the production of the film- mainly, acquiring financing. Dante resorts to contacting his ex-fiancee Emma for money- even after he cheated on her in Clerks II. Randall also wants to include a scene featuring Veronica from the first film, who was famous for performing 37 of the same sex act- angering both Dante and her, though coincidentally reigniting a spark between them. The part that throws Dante over the edge though, is the re-enactment of an infamous scene in Clerks II involving “interspecies erotica.” This event triggers him as this was when he and his wife, Becky, confessed their love for each other in Clerks II. She was killed in a car crash years ago along with their unborn child, sending Dante into a years-long depression. Just as he is moving along with his life, this re-enactment triggers him and he gets into a drunken argument with Randall- collapsing from a heart attack, but not being as fortunate as Randall. The movie ends with a sweet note- Randall redeeming himself by focusing on Dante in the film rather than himself, and showing him the finished product before passing. It’s a bittersweet ending as we know the series is wrapping up- but at least there is closure regarding the characters and store.
What first appealed to me in Clerks III is how vibrant, detailed and high definition the Quick Stop looks in this iteration. The first film is in black and white, shot on 16mm film and very oversaturated. It very much exudes a cinema verite feel- but it’s hard to make out many details like product brands and movie titles at the video store. Clerks II barely takes place at the Quick Stop- being burned down but then rebuilt when the characters get the money to buy and fix up the place. You don’t really get to experience what it is like at Quick Stop nor the township of Leonardo, New Jersey. The store is oddly clean, there is now a brand new apartment building across the street (in Clerks, it is very visibly an empty lot,) and we can see locations in the town that aren’t just the Quick Stop or Mooby’s (hospital, cemetery.) We can see the products for sale in the store, both real and fictional. I was always a big fan of Nails brand cigarettes, which now apparently sells vape pens. The Quick Stop has also added millennial and Gen Z options such as oat milk to keep up with changing dietary trends. The store has never looked better, and it feels like you are actually there.
Greatly appreciated is the reduction in homophobic jokes and, in general, jokes against marginalized groups. This is poked fun at in a recreation of a famous scene from the first movie, which while still holding up today has a few moments that could offend modern sensibilities. Many of the jokes in Clerks III revolve around popular culture references and the differences between the modern world and the 90’s. For example, Elias and Blockchain minting NFT’s and investing in cryptocurrency- which while starting as a joke, they end up making millions from the project. Jokes made about Tinder, Elon Musk and the legalization of marijuana make you realize how much time has passed since the last film. It creates a very nostalgic feeling- almost like returning to your hometown after moving to the big city. You go back for a reunion, for a friend’s funeral or visiting your parents- and you see how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The guys still play hockey on the roof, the same customers shop there and the same movies are debated over and over again. It’s comforting, but also reminds you why you don’t stick around- it gets old after a while.
A main issue with the film is that honestly, much of the charm and humor that made the first two films memorable is no longer viable and in some cases, incredibly offensive and denigrating. While for the most part this is good, it also makes you question yourself and what you find funny- were the other films good because of the humor, or because they were well made? I would say for Clerks it is the former and for Clerks II the latter- but Clerks III is self aware in the way that it slows way down and begins to question it’s existence and past. Perhaps just like the lead characters? It isn’t as abrasive, hateful and downright nasty. There are little glimmers of it, but you can definitely tell where Smith was careful with his writing as to not offend younger audiences. I would chalk this up to a mixture of things- his near death experience and the influence that his daughter Harley Quinn Smith has played in his life. He is much more of a family man now and has a very close relationship to both his wife and daughter. The misogynistic, juvenile humor of his earlier films were made at a time when he was much younger and was raised in a radically different generation. It is good that in his later years he is growing wise and introspective- but this reflects in Clerks III with the more sterile, slower paced humor.
That being said, Clerks III is still an enjoyable viewing experience, especially as a long time Smith fan that has been burned with several of his recent films (looking at you, Jersey Girl and Yoga Hosers.) It is great that he is going back to his roots and not trying to create a new series that nobody wants- people want the “View Askewniverse,” not films revolving around his daughter and her friends. It has been modernized not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually. Some may say it is a “victim” of wokeness- I would say it has grown up and been handed off to a generation that doesn’t value the older style of humor. If you aren’t a Kevin Smith fan and you aren’t familiar with his prior work, this experience will not be rewarding and you may find yourself confused or irritated. This is definitely fan service to the highest degree- very satisfying to those in “the know,” but exclusionary to outsiders. I’d recommend it to fans, but to others, I’d do some research first and maybe watch some of the earlier View Askew films (or read about them on Wikipedia.)