When I first heard that Kevin Smith was making Clerks 2, I was immediately sure it was going to be a bad move. I mean, how the hell do you make a sequel to a movie about slackers, in which nothing of importance happens? And how the hell do you make it over a decade later? I thought for certain that it would either be a total retread, with similar gags but no spark of originality or creativity (Blues Brothers 2000) or it would be even goofier than the original, like many of Smith’s later movies. Clerks somehow worked because it was simultaneously shallow and deep: on one level, it was about the antics of a pair of wage slaves with a few pop-culture references for good measure; on another, it was like an anthem and a rallying cry for a generation of slackers trapped in retail jobs without the slightest idea how to move up in the world or what they would do when they got there. Shit or get off the pot! Would Kevin give us that magical mixture again?
Turns out, yeah.
Kevin Smith has been all over the place, what with romantic comedies, adventures in Catholicism, and Carrie Fisher dressed as a nun. Clerks 2 goes right back to the source of Smith’s popularity—not only by returning to Dante and Randall, but by revisiting the themes of the first film. Once again, our dear clerks are working shitty jobs, with Dante trying to maintain at least a veneer of responsibility, and Randall not giving a shit and loving it (and somehow not getting fired). Jay and Silent Bob hang out selling drugs for most of the movie, doing little to advance the plot (until the deus ex machina at the end, but that’s forgivable). No shit-monsters, no Chris Rock, no La Fours. Classic Clerks action.
But Clerks 2 is no retread. The audience is introduced to new characters, including a hilariously sheltered young Christian named Elias. More importantly, our clerks have changed in the past decade. Well, Randall is as flippant as ever, but Dante has changed. He’s got prospects now—a rich fiancé and a promise of a home and a job in Florida. But he’s also got more ties in Jersey than he realizes.
I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here, but like the original, Clerks 2 does have messages. At first, we’re inclined to support Dante as he finally gets ready, in his 30s, to leave the world of clerking behind for good. Randall, we believe, is hopeless—lacking ambition or in fact any concern beyond goofing off. But, the film asks, is that such a bad thing? All around us is the message that “growing up” means a stable marriage and a house with a white picket fence—but is that for everyone? Do we seek it for ourselves or because we’re told that we should want it? Or is a lack of ambition just a sign of self-satisfaction?
All these conflicts—Dante vs. Randall, Dante vs. himself, Elias vs. his own horribly repressed upbringing—come to a boil during the infamous donkey show scene—the same scene which prompted Joel Siegel to walk out of the world premier, bitterly cursing. Once again, Dante’s future seems to be ruined, and it looks like it’s Randall’s fault. What follows isn’t a vicious convenience store fistfight, but a true catharsis. Randall’s flippant exterior is finally cracked; the two achieve greater mutual understanding (in a totally hetero way), and thanks to the inexplicable assistance of Jay and Silent Bob, a happy ending is snatched from the jaws of improbability.
Though the ending is rather contrived, I honestly cannot see that this movie could have wrapped up any differently than it did. If the film had ended without a resolution, it would truly have been a retread. If the film had ended with Dante going to Florida, it would have violated the film’s entire message. If Dante had just said “fuck you, Randall,” and took off on his own, well, that would be a huge downer.
If Kevin Smith plans to “retire” Jay, Silent Bob, and his other characters from Leonardo (which would probably be a smart thing to do), he probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting closer than Clerks 2: a return to the beginning, but also a true dénouement to Dante and Randall’s aimless existence. Bravo, Kevin. Thanks for the ride.