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Jan. 9th, 2005 @ 03:41 pm most pretentious clerks review ever
Clerks is a bold, bold movie. Kinda sad that people intelligent enough to appreciate it are driven away by the foul language and sex jokes, and the people worldly enough to understand it are driven away by the lack of action ("Fucking boring, man, it's just two guys quoting Star Wars and swearing at each other at a convenience store."). Watching the film in either of these contexts will give you the wrong impression, for what Clerks is, more than anything, is a uniquely American take on the French art film. Not an incredibly masterful art film, mind you, but the attempt to bringing something like this to an American mass audience in perfectly serious non-parody is ambitious. What people don't understand about this movie is that it isn't just a bunch of guys doing nothing and telling dirty jokes. There's a subtext to this film--not an incredibly deep subtext, and subtle enough to go under the radar of the lowest denominator (whom, sadly, this film was marketed to), but powerful and thought-provoking nonetheless. Every seemingly pointless conversation, every seemingly irrelevant reference to oral sex contributes to the sense of ennui and despair that the protagonist Dante experiences. Everything that happens to him, every person he meets, illustrates a miserable existence in which he does little but sacrifice his own needs in order to protect empty obligations to guilt-tripping, passive-aggressive people. Dante's delinquent, happy-go-lucky foil Randal, who is in the exact same situation and quite satisfied with it, the Millerian Biff to Dante's Willy (WOOOOO! OBNOXIOUS LITERARY REFERENCE AND DOUBLE ENTENDRE!), constantly reminds Dante that he has the power to leave his thankless job, that he has the power to turn his life around--a power that Dante's complacency forbids him from exercising. It is a feeling that will hit close to home for anyone who has experienced the boredom and the meaninglessness of working in a convenience store. Crude? Yes--but that's what it's like when you're spending ten hours a day bagging groceries and self-superior asshats are giving you shit because they have higher paying jobs. This is not a film for people who believe that people in low-paying jobs are there because they belong there, it is a film against these people.

The directing style borrows from New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Goddard's bag of tricks; the extremely long takes, little camera movement, black and white film stock, minimum of sets, and occasional jump cut create a feeling of ennui and despair absolutely forbidden by go-go-action-action keep-the-lowest-denominator-on-their-toes Hollywood. The sick jokes and nasty humor are more than mere character development; they build the tension of the movie and drive it along at a leisurely pace. Dialogue, not action, drives this film, and the abusively friendly relationship between Dante and Randal is one of the most interesting and genuine Hollywood friendships since Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon--no small feat for Brian O'Holleran (Dante) and Jeff Anderson (Randal), who pull through in spades, portraying an absolutely convincing pair of convenience store workers fresh out of college. This film hits you right in the gut--it is the cold, hard reality of the American working class told in the authentically crude language of the working class, told in possibly the most pretentiously inaccessible format ever. France has always chided America for not undderstanding subtlety. It's a shame they were right.

Four stars out of five.
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