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Jose Cruz

Professor K. Stofferahn

FILM 200-01

5 May 2008

Clerks Film Criticism

Kevin Smith’s 1994 debut feature film Clerks tells the story about two clerks that work in

a convenience store, referred to as the “Quick Stop”. Called in on his day off, Dante (Brian

O’Halloran) is forced to deal with annoying customers, his two love interests, and his best friend

Randal (Jeff Anderson). He is also forced to take a look at his life and where it is going, or if it

has any direction at all. Roger Ebert describes the movie and its characters as: “The movie has

the attitude of a gas station attendant who tells you to check your own oil…and Dante and

Randal look like they have been nourished from birth on beef jerky and Cheetos. They are tired

and bored, underpaid and unlucky in love, and their encounters with customers feel like a series

of psychological tests” (Ebert par.2).

Smith’s focuses on the main two losers throughout the film, of whom are perfect

examples of the slacker culture of the early nineties. Desson Howe of the Washington Post said,

“much of ‘Clerks’ is extremely funny and dead-on—in terms of its intentionally satirical, Gen-

X-istential gloom” (Howe par.3). Dante and Randal are both adults in their early twenties, while

still working at the Quick Stop and showing no signs of improving or changing their situations.

Dante complains repeatedly about his life, mostly saying: “I’m not even supposed to be here

today!” throughout the film, without doing much about it. But on the other hand, Randal is

content with his situation, and simply deals with every day brings. By focusing on their
personalities and overall attitudes, Smith presents a message of getting on with life, despite the

life situation.

Clerks’ structure doesn’t possess a plot, but rather shows events throughout the course of

the day. It plays more like a series of occurrences that ultimately tie together the day depicted

and the film itself. Some scenes are merely conversations about Star Wars, stupid customers, and

porn, while most of them progress the relationships of the characters. But they all add

perspective to the characters’ personalities and the setting.

In terms of technical innovations, the film does not break any new ground. It was filmed

in black and white, while many films at the time were not. The film’s budget was made for

approximately $28,000, and was shot mostly in and around the real Quick Stop convenience

store. Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle described the look of the film as “resolutely low-

budget, full of shaky camera work, the occasional less-than-perfect edit, and a few sound

glitches. Conveniently, though, all this shoestring filmmaking technique only adds to the film's

desperate charm” (Savlov). As most of the movie is indoors, you get a feel for what they have to

do all day, which is either dealing with customers or doing nothing. The cinematography is

pretty straight forward, with the main use of objective point-of-view. But at the same time,

Smith uses a director’s interpretive point of view. For example, there are many conversations

between the two leads that take place behind the counter of the store. Smith frames the shot in a

way so it is centered on the two standing behind the counter. This creates a feeling of them being

trapped, because they are enclosed in that area by the counter, the wall behind them, and the

consumer products that surround them. The camera movements are also pretty straight forward,

as no pans, tilts, dolly shots, etc. are notably used. However, Smith does use a lot of handheld

camerawork, except on the occasions on the mentioned counter shots.
Smith communicates two problems of the slacker culture: those who are satisfied with

their life, and those complain but don’t do anything (or as Randal says to Dante towards the end

of the film, those who “need to shit or get off the pot.”). Smith doesn’t only show this through

the personalities of Dante and Randal, but through relationships. Dante is torn between two

women: one is his current girlfriend named Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who truly loves him

but pressures him to continue his education in college, and the other is a promiscuous woman he

went out with in high school named Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer). Veronica is the driving force that

could move Dante’s life into a new, successful direction, while Caitlin represents his high school

days, before he entered the real world. This presents the conflict of whether Dante should stay

where he is at in life with an old high school sweetheart (who has cheated on him in the past), or

move on in life with the woman who wants him to succeed and loves him. By the end of the

film, Dante’s relationships with both of them are ended, and Smith does not give much of an

answer for whether Dante learned anything from them. But the film as a whole works in a weird

way because of it, in that Dante himself doesn’t really know what he wants from life throughout

the film, so by not giving him an epiphany or resolution compliments his persona very well.

What Smith seems to illuminate about our culture is the alarming rate of youth adults fit

into the slacker category. Over the course of the film Dante and Randal are not the only

characters without higher education. Outside the Quick Stop are two stoner drug dealers, named

Jay and Silent Bob (two characters that show up frequently in Kevin Smith’s other films), who

just simply stand in front of the store all day, waiting for their next drug deal. Not only does

Clerks shine light on said slackers, but it also shows what it is like for those in the service

industry. The clerks have to deal with stupid customers that ask them questions like: “How much

does this cost?” (When there is a sign that reads “$.99”) and “What do you mean no ice, you
mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?” At one point in the film, while Dante, Randal, and a

customer are talking about a man that puts eggs through ‘endurance tests’ in the back aisle, she

turns to them and says: “You see, it’s important to have a job that makes a difference boys.

That’s why I manually masturbate caged animals for artificial insemination.” Several customers

like this take an arrogant verbal stab at the clerks throughout the film, and you feel bad for them,

despite their inaction to change their position.

This movie reminded my own experiences and me a lot of the people I know. Very few

people in my own have gone to college, and have ended up in either construction-type jobs or

service jobs of some kind. Also, many people I knew in high school who are not in college now

are working as waiters or store clerks. I have worked several public service jobs, from hauling

kegs and serving beer to bringing old people their food in a nursing home. And since I know

what it is like to work in the service industry, there is a reason I am in college right now. Clerks

changes the way you look at people stuck in those type of jobs, and the way you treat them. As

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Free Press puts it, “there's something about seeing life from

the distinct angle of the convenience-store clerk that's just new enough to hold you” (LaSalle


What makes the film work is that it chronicles a day in the life of Dante and Randal,

rather than giving you bits and pieces of different days and time periods. By doing this, it gives

the audience more of perspective of what these people go through, even if it be dealing with

personal problems or fighting boredom. With all this said, I love this film. The dialogue is very

realistic and funny, and like I said, I can relate to it even though I have never worked in a corner

convenience store. There is a charm to the amateurism and simplicity of the story, and the

intelligence behind the dialogue. However, I don’t think this film is for everyone. Despite the
rave reviews it received at its theatrical release, Clerks is highly profane. Not only does it have

many bad four-letter words, but there is also a lot of sexually explicit dialogue. Clerks initially

received an NC-17 rating, and had to be edited down to get an R-rating. When a major plot point

involves Dante finding out about Veronica and a large amount of fellatio on her part, you know

that it’s profane. Only those who can handle almost constant profanity, but no violence or actual

sex can dig this film. To really get the true idea of everything I mentioned, one has to see it for

Works Cited Page

Clerks. Dir. Kevin Smith. Perf. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson. Miramax, 1994.

Ebert, Roger. Clerks. 4 Nov 1994 5 May 2008.


Howe, Desson. Clerks. 4 Nov 1994 The Washington Post 4 May 2008.


LaSalle, Mick. Clerks. 8 Nov 1994 San Francisco Free Press 4 May 2008.

Savlov, Marc. Clerks. 11 Nov 1994 The Austin Chronicle 5 May 2008.

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