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Set on Dante’s last day at Mooby’s before Emma whisks him off to married life in Florida, Clerks IIis about the end of something — a slacker Iceman Cometh in a drive-thru Harry Hope’s. But it’s above all a romance, and the dialogue in the scenes between Dante and Becky, as you slowly reveal to us the depths of their relationship, is tender and wise in the way of Chasing Amy. Watching the film, I was reminded that, for all your outward irreverence, you’re a big old softie at heart, and when you’re on your game, you don’t have to work nearly so hard at reaching out and touching an audience as you did in Jersey Girl. There, you gave us straight-faced heartstrings and tears; here, you stage Dante and Becky’s climactic heart-to-heart against the backdrop of a male-on-male bestiality show, and I can’t think of many other filmmakers who could pull that off. (Actually, I’m not sure that youpull it off, but you certainly come closer than most.)
The grandest romance in Clerks II, however, is reserved for Dante and Randal themselves, and if the latter’s third-act admission of heterosexual man-love will doubtless strike some as a self-conscious retread over Banky-Holden territory, I personally found it more affecting than anything in Brokeback Mountain. Randal is really the star attraction this time around, and the screen seems to light up extra bright whenever he’s on it, whether he’s flashing that devilish glint in his eyes or feeling the bottom drop out of his modest existence when he realizes that his one true friend in the universe may be about to disappear forever. And Jeff Anderson, well, he’s just terrific in the role — so much so that I started to wonder why he isn’t in more movies, until it dawned on me that, like the character he plays, he may be the brightest underachiever around.
Clerks IIis far from perfect — I could have done without the geek debate over the relative merits of the Star Warsand Lord of the Ringstrilogies, and the running conversation about “going ass to mouth” is only half as funny as Chasing Amy’s memorable discussion about going down on girls. That said, this is the umpteenth movie I’ve seen this year about guys in their 30s who aren’t quite sure what they want to do with their lives, and it’s the only one that strikes a real chord, because it’s neither an exaltation nor a condemnation of slackerdom, but rather just a sweet little fable about how sometimes the life that you think could be so much better is actually pretty damn good already. That’s a sentiment, I’d wager, as coveted by you, Kevin, as it is by Dante and Randal, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.
Still, I hope you won’t take offense if I close with a few words of brotherly advice, even if this is a case of the younger brother advising the older one: I said before that you’ve never really left Jersey, and for the most part I mean it as a compliment — like the original, Clerks IIhas a lived-in, blue-collar feel that Hollywood almost never gets right. At the same time, I can’t quite shake the feeling that you haven’t much wanted to set foot outside of your self-created View Askewniverse, even though there’s a great big Mooby’s-less world out there full of stories that could benefit from your telling. In the end credits of Clerks, you thanked Richard Linklater, Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch “for leading the way,” and 12 years later, they’re still leading and you’re still following. But for now, I take comfort in the knowledge that, in these crazy, mixed-up times of ours, Dante and Randal are still clerking, and Jay and Silent Bob are still dealing. May they live long and prosper.
CLERKS II| Written and directed by KEVIN SMITH | Produced by SCOTT MOSIER | Released by the Weinstein Company | Citywide
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