Clerks operates on intensity. But it’s mostly dialogue and there’s not a lot of action. So director Smith relies on surprises, whether visual, in dialogue, in plot. At its best, Clerks is creative with its constraints. At its worst, Clerks is lead Brian O’Halloran whining (badly, I might add). There’s a lot of whining. Only O’Halloran is supposed to be the viewer’s POV; Smith structures the narrative from this negative place. That POV allows for a lot of the humor–and it gives Jeff Anderson’s sidekick character more implied depth than O’Halloran gets–but it does get annoying at times. As Clerks progresses, Smith gets a lot less inventive and not just with the filmmaking, but with the narrative.
The film ends up being about O’Halloran and his place in the universe. While it does start with O’Halloran, it’s more about his juvenile behavior in his relationship with his girlfriend, Marilyn Ghigliotti in the film’s best performance. O’Halloran isn’t good and Smith doesn’t know how to direct him to be better. The script requires a lot of charm for the part to work and O’Halloran doesn’t have it. He even gets less likable as the movie goes on and he becomes less and less imposing a protagonist.
Maybe if O’Halloran were actually structured to have everything go on around him, but Smith doesn’t set things up well. Clerks is a lot of solid creative impulses running out of steam before they’re anywhere near finished. Same goes for Smith’s script–he’s got some interesting questions but the answers never surpass mediocre.
Anderson’s fantastic, O’Halloran isn’t. There’s amusing support from Jason Mewes, problematic–but earnest–support from Lisa Spoonauer (in the film’s most problematic role).
Great photography from David Klein, great editing (for the most part) from Smith and Scott Mosier.
Clerks goes from better to worse to a little bit better, but having a strong sense of itself for the finale doesn’t make up for all the time it spends floundering.