I was going to start this post with a comment about how, even with all its problems, Clerks II is easily Kevin Smith’s best film. I guess I’ll still start with some of those remarks–Smith’s editing is excellent here, not to mention the traditional romantic comedy between Brian O’Halloran and Rosario Dawson–which is incredibly movie traditional and well-done by Dawson and Smith (O’Halloran is awful in the scenes). There’s a musical number in the film and, as I watched it, I realized, whether he acknowledges it or not, whether he ever utilizes the skills again, Smith’s finally become a good filmmaker.
A lot of Clerks II is an attempt to gross out and shock the audience. It’s not particularly tied to the existing Kevin Smith universe and when the characters finally reveal what they’d been up to for ten years, it’s a surprise. Even though the film opens with some direct references to the first movie, it does not feel like much a sequel… and it might be the most impressive sequel, in terms of artistic achievement, I’ve seen in a long time. There doesn’t need to be a Clerks for there to be a Clerks II. The film doesn’t “stand on it’s own” or whatever, it succeeds where the first film could not. Listless thirties angst versus listless twenties angst… there’s no contest.
I’m going to try to go through the bad stuff here and then bring around the last paragraph to–try to–express the film’s success (I’ll fail). Smith as Silent Bob–but not Jason Mewes–is unbearable. He plays the part like a cartoon, whereas his own script calls for a semblance of reality. And as incredibly embarrassed as he should be for himself (so embarrassed I started the sentence with an “and”), nothing should compare to the embarrassment over (his wife) Jennifer Schwalbach’s performance. She and O’Halloran’s scenes are bad high school level acting. It really reminds of the terrible acting in the first film, which at least had the excuse of not having a budget (Clerks II should also have been black and white… kind of… it should have had exaggerated colors maybe, since Smith does use the black and white in parts and to extraordinary success). But anyway, she’s atrocious. In fact, writing about her has made me forget a lot of my other comments.
The first half of the film has a lot of missteps, because it’s hard to get used to Rosario Dawson acting and Brian O’Halloran doing his thing, it’s hard to get used to Schwalbach being treated like she’s not awful. It’s also very obvious how Smith is giving Dawson and the romantic comedy a lot of screen time and shoving Jeff Anderson off on anti-fanboy rants. Anderson’s great at those, but, like in the first one, he’s capable of acting and acting well and in one sequence, where Smith works the editing and the music, he and Anderson pull the movie around.
Then, the film goes through an odd third act, featuring all the scenes meant to enrage the MPAA (not really, Smith seems to have tried that one early on)–but disgust the MPAA and realize an R-rated “Family Guy”–and ends up in an amazing resolution. A mature, thoughtful resolution….
I was expecting something self-referential–especially during the cameo scenes–but Smith avoids all those traps… if it weren’t for Rocky Balboa, I’d say it’s the most successful delayed sequel in a long time… but even with Rocky (and some of Clerks II’s successes are artistically similar), it’s one heck of an achievement for Smith.
If only he could fire his wife (I can understand O’Halloran–he kind of has to be in it, but there’s no good reason for Schwalbach).
Written, directed and edited by Kevin Smith; director of photography, David Klein; music by James L. Venable; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Scott Mosier; released by The Weinstein Company.
Starring Brian O’Halloran (Dante), Jeff Anderson (Randal), Rosario Dawson (Becky), Jason Mewes (Jay), Trevor Fehrman (Elias) and Jennifer Schwalbach (Emma).