Here’s how to feel really old. Clerks, Kevin Smith’s career-defining cult classic, came out 28 years ago. 28.
Since 1994, the year of the original Clerks, we’ve had a bunch of other Smith projects, including Clerks II in 2006 which introduced us to Rosario Dawson’s Becky. We probably didn’t need another Clerks film, but somehow, Clerks III might be my favourite out of the lot.
We once again tune into the lives of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves. They still work at the Quick Stop and Jay and Silent Bob still hang out there too. Nothing has really changed, for better or worse. Their lives are at a constant standstill, at least until Randal suffers a heart attack which pushes him to direct a movie of their lives, much to Dante’s annoyance.
For most of its runtime, Clerks III feels painfully insignificant. It’s funny, but never properly hilarious and the themes never really grip you. Same jokes are repeated, both from the previous films as well as from earlier in the film. It’s almost tiring, your focus starts to fade and your eyes grow heavy.
And then, out of the blue, Smith hits you with an emotional gut punch. It feels like a wrecking ball hitting you in the face out of the blue, but with less internal bleeding. It makes it seem like everything that came before was somehow worth it.
Of course, Clerks III is wonderfully nerdy. I already started tearing up as Randal says, “There was an 80% chance we’d never talk about Star Wars again.” The space opera is a constant point of reference in the film, including in its more heartfelt moments. To the people not too fussed about Star Wars, it might seem juvenile and silly, but to fans – and, frankly, anyone with a basic understanding of how culturally important Star Wars is – it’s resonant and it gives Clerks III a sense of identity. It exists in its own bubble of nerdiness.
The film is clearly designed for fans of the first two films. If Clerks I & II didn’t tickle your fancy at all, there’s a very high chance Clerks III, which is just very much the same, will be a chore to get through. Smith has clearly drawn inspiration from his own life and his own heart attack he suffered in 2018 and perhaps Clerks III is his way of reflecting on it.
Randal and Dante both struggle with their situation, Dante admittedly more than Randal. Both have regrets, both have unfulfilled dreams and desires. They have each other, but the painful admittance that that might not be enough is at the heart of Clerks III.
Brian O’Halloran is clearly the standout of Clerks III. His performance is gracefully underlined with tragedy. Dante is so sick of his life, the Quick Stop and even, at times, Randal’s constant joking and silliness. Dante feels he had a chance at happiness, but it’s been taken from him and he’s bitter. O’Halloran communicates the bitterness delicately, without ever reducing Dante to just being bitter, but letting the pure love between Randal and Dante to shine through as well.
Clerks III is without a doubt the most Kevin Smith film there is. For the filmmakers fans, there is much to enjoy here, but the overly familiar narrative and tired jokes might not satisfy others. The final act of Clerks III is its best, but it’s a long way to get to it and the film fights an uphill battle to keep the audience interested until that. But it is a rewarding, deeply emotional and fitting end to the trilogy.
Clerks III is in cinemas September 16