It’s been nearly thirty years since the original Clerks came out. For full transparency, I wasn’t even born when it came out – so I might not be able to appreciate the nostalgia a lot of people have for the characters and story that Kevin Smith created. Although, I do find myself to be a fan of Kevin Smith both as an individual figure and a creator as Tusk is one of my favorite horror films of the last decade. Clerks III feels like a bit of a swan song for Kevin Smith, in the sense that it seemingly tries to wrap a bow around a story he started back when he was a young filmmaker. No matter how you feel about him as a director and the films he’s made – it’s undeniably cool that anyone gets to do that.
I’m prefacing all of this by saying that I feel divided by Clerks III in the sense that it simply feels like it isn’t made for me, but I highly respect what Kevin Smith was trying to do with it. I saw the first two Clerks films for the first time within the last year, and found Clerks II to be an at-times funnier but still somehow lesser sequel to the first that overdoes its schtick a little too long to get a pass. There’s such a simplicity to the first film that I feel like the sequel immediately does away with, and therefor feels lesser for it. Clerks III feels like a mix of both worlds, considering it’s a film that isn’t afraid to get as comedic as Clerks II but feels smaller scale and as personal as the first film did. In fact, I think this film actually really swings for the fences in terms of what Smith is trying to say through these characters about his own aging and placement not only as a self-identified nerd but as an artist himself.
The film follows Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O’Halloran) who still own their shop and are, as we last saw them, huge nerds. However, both are clearly aging and going through some truly tough times in every conceivable way. Dante especially goes through the ringer as he deals with some genuine emotional torment, and Randal unexpectedly suffers from a heart-attack that leaves him reeling and wondering where his life went. Randal and Dante decide to recruit their buddies (including Jay and Silent Bob) to help make a movie inspired by their lives – a comedy about the mundane nature of working at a job you kind of hate and dealing with random customers each and every day. Sound familiar? Sound meta?? It is!
There are some genuinely deep themes that this film attempts to tackle, and it’s all the more poignant when you realize Smith is drawing inspiration from his own heart-attack from a few years ago. So in that sense, the film feels genuinely earnest in both its portrayal of that kind of scare and how Smith uses these characters he created so long ago to convey these themes. In my opinion, I don’t think the film is as effective for me as an audience member as it seems to be for Kevin Smith behind the camera. And on the one hand, it makes me feel cold towards the film personally as I didn’t find it too funny nor was I particularly invested in the story. However, I can genuinely appreciate with Smith tries to do here and am more-so moved by his intentions and ambitions than I am with the final product.
If you’re a fan of these films and Smtih’s little universe he’s built for them, I can’t recommend Clerks III enough. In terms of the franchise, I’d probably rank it alongside the second film – while this is the least funny of the three, it also has the most on its mind and that alone makes me appreciate it. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to have me genuinely like it. While the ambitions and heart are in the right place, some of the writing and attempts at comedy this time around fall flat a little too often for me to fully appreciate it. But I nonetheless hope it finds its audience and Smith feels content with the work, because he seemingly poured his all into it this time.