Paraphrasing French poet Paul Valéry, George Lucas once said ‘films are never completed, they are only abandoned’ (which he said before going back and making said films wish they had been abandoned) but the same must hold true for film universes because, five years after “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” figuratively and literally closed the book on the View Askewniverse, Kevin Smith decided to head right back to the beginning again and reopen the Quick Stop.
Ten years after the events of “Clerks”, one fateful morning Dante arrives to open up the Quick Stop only to find it engulfed in flames. After considering broadening their horizons, Dante and Randal end up working at a fast-food joint. A year or so later, Dante is making plans to break free of his dead-end job rut and move to Florida with his fiancé, whose father has promised to set him up with a house and a business to run. For Randal, the impending departure of his best friend is a cause for alarm and for Jay and Silent Bob, it’s business as usual as they stop hanging out in front of the Quick Stop and take up residence at Mooby’s.
They say the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there but Smith picks up his characters’ lives a decade on and while everyone is ten years old, there’s still a big question mark over whether they’re ten years wiser. Dante, at least, seems to have his shit together but as the film progresses, we find that a great many of the truths he clings to depend greatly on his own point of view. The sharp, wry humour of “Clerks” returns undiminished by time and while the references have changed in time (this time, Randal’s crusading for “Star Wars” takes on “Lord Of The Rings”), the filthy turn of phrase is as inventive and incisive as ever.
There’s a wonderfully intricate construction to the dialogue in these films, a kind of verbal choreography that borders on poetry or linguistic ballet. The only other screenwriter whose works compare is Quentin Tarantino and for me, the difference is who they’re writing for. Tarantino chases the adulation and approval of the audience; you can feel it in his most verbose moments that he’s looking to impress and to be hailed as a kind of zeitgeist Svengali for his writing. For me, Smith is every bit his equal but the difference is that Smith isn’t chasing that same critical adoration or approval, he’s writing for himself and his friends and that brings a degree of authenticity that’s occasionally absent in Tarantino’s self-consciously pop-culture deep cuts.
It’s great to see Dante and Randal again and Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson effortlessly slip back into the roles, with Anderson especially impressing as an older yet arguably more juvenile Randal, acting out on emotions he doesn’t really fully understand. It’s also nice to see what Jay and Silent Bob have been up to and, as acknowledged by a reference to a plea-bargained spell in rehab, it’s wonderful to see Jason Mewes looking fit and healthy and very much on top form. There are cameos from the usual View Askewniverse repertory suspects, so Ethan Suplee, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee pop in for cameos but some of the best moments go to the new additions. Trevor Fehrman is a terrific find, slotting in seamlessly as a new padawan for Randal to torment now that it looks like his ‘Master’ is moving on but all eyes will naturally be on Rosario Dawson as Becky, Dante’s manager, friend and possibly more. She’s so effortlessly adorable and yet holds her own when going toe-to-toe with the crude boys and dweebs around her.
“Clerks II” is a welcome and most importantly, worthwhile return to Smith’s old stomping grounds and while it succeeds as a vehicle for reflecting on the changes and challenges, gains and losses of growing into your thirties, thematically Dante’s journey delivers a defiant metaphor for Smith’s filmmaking career, as Dante rejects the offer of easy comfort and success for the price of conformity and conventionality in favour of exploring his passions and inspirations on his own terms and in his own inimitable way. The View Askewniverse is Smith’s own personal artistic Quick Stop and I for one am delighted he decided to reopen it.