Kevin Smith’s low-budget, debut feature Clerks is one of my favourite comedies and would easily find itself on my Top 20 list. Filmed in black and white due to budgetary reasons, the film took the rather bland notion of following the lives of two store clerks for a day, and managed to turn it into a hilarious narration/ breakdown of society’s insignificance, the two’s fruitless romances and their general disregard for common courtesy. While the comedy-duo of Jay and Silent Bob have become crowd favourites, even embarking on their own film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it’s the constant bickering and moaning between Randal Graves and Dante Hicks that stands out and really connects with me.
Brian O’Halloran’s Dante Hicks is a Quick Stop Convenient Store clerk, who in his own words is “not even supposed to be at work”. At the age of 22, he lives with his parents but feels a strong sense of independence and self-control in his life. Yet while his romantic relationship with Veronica Loughran has potential, it is being tested by their frequent outbursts and previous sexual escapades. Furthermore Dante’s lingering interest in Caitlin Bree, his ex, is destroying his self-described “adequate” way of life. Meanwhile Jeff Anderson’s Randal Graves is a clerk at RST Video who couldn’t give a crap about anything except himself. He mocks customers, arrives late for work and orders porn videos in front of children.
While I could have picked either character, the two undoubtably work together. Each has a strict sentiment towards themselves and their idea of humanity. Both believe that they are the “voice of reason”, but are deeply flawed in their egos. Randal’s cynical perspective on customers, Star Wars and the entirety of the world is an undeniably cruel and blunt commentary that you can’t help but laugh and clap in agreement with. His entire misanthropic interpretation of life is one that’s extreme, but largely understandable. Meanwhile Dante’s futile attempts to improve his own existence and maintain a solid relationship is just as superficial and tenuous as Randal and he himself eventually acknowledges. For all that Dante tries to defend his current mindset and ambitions, Randal’s philosophy justifiably quashes those aspirations in a hilarious and thought-provoking manner. Both bicker and debate, but still reinforce their friendship that withstands the even more awkward moments of Clerks 2 (which I also like).
These maybe bland, whinny individuals who many would question their purpose or like-ability. However the constant stream of profanity, their blatant disregard for manners and their distain for their bosses, further add to their relatable personalities that’s engaging and weirdly charming. Creating these connection between the characters and the audience is essential to successfully conveying a story and the subsequent drama. Furthermore, the believability of these characters in their makeup and behaviour is important to build that attachment to them. Both Dante and Randal rest on their mannerisms and ideology, which I personally find agreement with. I’m, like many, a moaning, cynical individual who criticises everything and everyone. Whether it’s popular culture or individuals, I normally have some “witty” or frustrated remark to pointlessly add to the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a miserable fart that’s believes his sole purpose in life is to belittle everything. But there’s something satisfying about the act of going to the local pub and chatting about the ineptitudes of society or the crap on TV.
Similarly the whole mundanity and drabness of a retail job is one that I myself have had the pleasure of dealing with. Whether it’s the barrage of clueless customers that ask pointless questions, or the “colourful” characters that make it their job to piss on your parade, the retail industry is one that I’ve “suffered” through. Yet even with my strong compassion towards these characters, I don’t consider Dante and Randal role models in anyway. I’m not the sort of person who constantly “corrects” his friends’ ideology and forces mine onto others. But the strong friendship that maintains itself through the crud and social woes is one that I have with many, and am quick to cherish. Even with their constant heated confrontations and debates, both care about each others state of mind and situation.
I guess it’s the similar attraction that many have to Daria from Daria. Dante and Randal offer a relatable duo of characters that director Kevin Smith uses to highlight some of societies “ills” and the complaints of the young and numerous. These could be the worst characters in cinema if you were to compare them to the heros and heroines of other films, but it’s the down-to-earth charm and pessimistic nature of these character, and the film, that really resonates in this sullen film watcher.
I highly recommend Clerks 2 and Clerks: The Animated Series.