I've always believed that a good majority of Kevin Smith's films are about what it means to be part of "something" - a friendship, a culture, an institution - to truly belong someplace and somewhere. With this, I can't help but feel like he's grown into a filmmaker who's telling himself and his fans to lead a meaningful.
Clerks III is a love song from Kevin Smith to his fans.
Admittedly, Clerks III is a messy, disorganized, and not entirely successful film but as I've been pushing back and forth to write this review I've found myself torn between recognizing certain flaws and drawn toward recognizing that Smith is speaking honestly to a community that has always listened to him. With Clerks III, Smith is saying "Stop being the consumer. Start being the creator."
At the end of Clerks 2, it seemed as if our squad was sliding into something resembling a more meaningful life with Dante (Brian O'Halloran) on the verge of marriage to pregnant fiance Becky (Rosario Dawson) and both Dante and Randal (Jeff Anderson) having acquired ownership of the Quick Shop.
As Clerks III opens with an energized and engaging musical montage to My Chemical Romance's Welcome to the Black Parade, there's a palpable sense of hope that renewal has enveloped the Askewniverse.
Except it doesn't work that easily. Sometimes, you can do everything right and life still goes wrong.
Dante's world has imploded, a tragic accident having altered its upward trajectory. WIthin only a few minutes of Clerks III, the same will happen to Randal as he gets slammed by a life-threatening heart attack smack dab in the middle of one of his usual harsh put-downs of Elias (Trevor Fehrman). Elias now has his own devotee, Blockchain (Austin Zajur). Successfully aided by a doctor (Amy Sedaris) who shows up dressed as a witch because she left directly from a costume party.
For the record, there is never a time when Amy Sedaris won't make me laugh even when she's not being particularly funny.
While the short and simple decision Randal makes is that he's going to make a movie about his life, essentially turning Clerks III into a cosplay version of making Clerks, the longer answer here is that Randal pledges to do something more meaningful with his life even if none of this particularly changes the fact that Randal can still be an irascible a**hole most of the the time.
There's a definite lack of balance between the characters of Dante and Randal, Dante's losses primarily addressed through flashback sequences involving Becky that are weird as heck but energized delightfully by Dawson. Dawson, at the very least, manages to infuse the film with some humanity even if she's doing it from the beyond.
Truthfully, Clerks III is a more melancholy, reflective film with humor that is softer and occasionally just plain flat. The challenge here is that even with O'Halloran and Anderson bringing their A-games, and they do, they're still C-game actors who are more than a little beyond their acting range here.
Sometimes, that works because real-life isn't always cinematic and it's kind of refreshing to have real people dealing with real life in really awkward ways.
Other times, however, it all gets a bit cringeworthy and there's simply no one here who is a strong enough actor to set the tone for the ensemble.
I suppose the real reason I just can't bring myself to dismiss Clerks III is that I can feel the film's heart and soul in every frame. The gang is here and they're giving it their all. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are back, Jay running the former video store and now legal weed shop as if it's still a clandestine operation and Silent Bob having one of the film's best rants.
Trevor Fehrman's Elias may still not make a lick of sense, but he sure is fun to watch.
Cameos are in abundance here from the likes of Sedaris, Justin Long, and a host of other familiar faces. Pop culture references are dialed down, though the expected Clerks references are dialed way up. In between, there's a whole lot of sadness, melancholy, reflection, and snark.
It's well known that in 2018, Smith himself had a heart attack and his survival from that heart attack has fueled changes in his own life and undeniably much of the messaging that unfolds here. While I'm not convinced this ensemble is ideally suited to the more dramatic arc that Smith shoots for here, it's that awkward and striving that helps the film land in Smith's usual way that is authentic, gloriously awkward, not entirely convincing, yet somehow rich and meaningful.
Clerks III is a love song from Kevin Smith for his fans and likely to be most appreciated alongside Smith fans at one of the film's upcoming Fathom Event screenings.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic