Either you love Kevin Smith, you hate Kevin Smith, or you’re totally indifferent. For most, that love comes down to whether you caught the wave of hype from his golden era, which lasted from the release of 1994’s Clerks all the way up to 2006’s Clerks II, though some would argue his last well-loved film was 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. His output since has either been met with lukewarm reception (Zack and Miri Make A Porno), raging debate (Tusk, Red State), or outright vitriol (Yoga Hosers). His most recent return to his shared universe of movies dubbed the “View Askewniverse”, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, mostly came and went, despite a glowing review from our very own Katie Rentschler. Nevertheless, Clerks III reaffirms what makes Smith such an important storyteller to many.
Clerks and Clerks II are snapshots of the lives of two underachieving, erm, clerks – Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). Clerks III continues the same formula, albeit with a twist. Smith closes the book on Clerks by fashioning it as a love letter to the making of the original Clerks. After suffering a near-fatal heart attack, Randal decides to stop talking about movies and start making one himself. He rounds up a crew including, but not limited to, lackey and frequent punching bag Elias (Trevor Fehrman), Dante’s old flame Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), and, of course, the lovable stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).
No one’s gonna give Clerks III any high marks for its technical aspects. The majority of the shots are flatly lit, the framing’s uninspired, yadda yadda yadda. The same complaints you hear of most latter-day Smith work: all here. That includes an incessant need for references that more or less repeat jokes from the original two films. However, like the daughter storyline in Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, Clerks III comes from a very genuine place. In 2018, Smith suffered a heart attack that made him question his own mortality. There’s a somber, existentialist undercurrent to a lot of Clerks III. Dante and Randal, like Smith, are getting older. Death is around the corner, and Randal and Dante both have glaring reminders of that.
Even to a younger person such as myself, Clerks III hits home. You can feel, in real-time, Smith parsing out how he feels about life and the inevitability of our demise. This leads to some majorly tear-jerking scenes, featuring truly brave work from O’Halloran and Graves. Smith, wisely, doesn’t let it all be dark clouds. Clerks III is as much a swooning endorsement of the power of independent filmmaking as anything else. Seeing the crew take from their own lives to make art – very crude art – warms the iciest of hearts. And it doubles as a great way of doing a victory lap of a friendship that has blossomed over the course of this improbable franchise.
And hey, it certainly doesn’t hurt any that Clerks III is hilarious! There are some fantastic, broad bits, such as Elias becoming a “born-again Satanist” and Jay & Silent Bob running a weed business out of their legitimate CBD store. Really, anything with Jay & Silent Bob is a stitch, as per usual. Smith’s dialogue hasn’t been this sharp since Clerks II because he understands that the seemingly petty arguments, pop culture debates, and wisecracks between characters are expressions of camaraderie. The gang’s all back, and it’s uncommonly nature.
Of course, this is a finale, and Clerks III makes some bold decisions on how to close the book on the story of Dante, Randal, and possibly the View Askewniverse as a whole. It’s heart-wrenching, strange, hopeful, and most vitally genuine. That word has been used a few times in this review, and that’s with great reason. Clerks III is a reminder of the power of film as connection. In 1994, he introduced us to lovable slackers who looked and talked like people in the real world, and it’s lasted a lot longer than the glitzy blockbusters of the era. With Clerk III, Kevin Smith wraps the audience in a tight bear hug, thanking us for all the time spent with these characters. If Clerks III is Smith’s last movie, there’s no better way to go out. I assure you, it’s great. – James Preston Poole
Clerks III is now in theaters. The film releases on digital on October 14 and on home video on December 6.