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By Doug Brunell | August 31, 2006

“Clerks II” is probably Kevin Smith’s best film. I know some will say it’s “Chasing Amy,” but I’ll kindly disagree. Why do I think this film is the one? Easy. It showed a natural maturity of the characters, and it proved that Smith has a good eye for bringing out the best in even the worst of people. It’s also the one film of his I most identified with, and that bothered me more than I cared to admit at first.
“Clerks II” was funny and kind of heartwarming. It had a good emotional punch that surprised even me. It’s not that I expect Smith’s work to be flawed and flat; I actually do expect good things from him. It’s just that I had no reason to expect this film to be as good as it was.
I liked the original “Clerks” quite a bit. For a while it seemed like everybody did (and then hopped off that bandwagon around “Dogma” and began to dismiss the man they once considered a cinematic god; everyone loves to deflate idols). I related to the characters. I worked in a convenience store like Dante, but my attitude was more like Randal’s (with a bit of Dante’s complacency thrown in). The experiences they had, I had, and I loved the film for that. “Clerks II” painted a scarier picture.
People who know me well have described me as the guy who hates everyone and who thinks everything sucks … just like Randal. When that scene in the jail cell came up, I could swear I caught my wife glancing sideways at me. What really killed me was that everything they were saying about being scared to take chances, being happy with situations that others would find despicable, and so on fit me.
A few months before seeing the film, I made a pretty big life change. I was already married and had a beautiful daughter, but I was at a job that wasn’t allowing me to get ahead financially. I liked the job a lot, though. I worked for a great guy. It gave me time to get my writing done, and I spent all day surrounded by friends discussing the very things discussed in “Clerks” and “Clerks II.” I managed a comic book store, and I was pretty happy with it … on the surface.
There was a lot of stuff under the surface, though. My job wasn’t paying me enough, and it didn’t look like that would change anytime soon. I had weathered two ownership changes (one that almost destroyed the business), and had one raise in five years. My writing was not paying like it used to, and bills were mounting up. I was starting to despise some of the customers, too. It was hard for me to go to work, the day dragged, and I didn’t think I could take one more conversation about the merits of Steve Ditko’s early Marvel work. (It’s better than his later stuff on “The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones.”) I just couldn’t do it anymore, but I lived in economically depressed area where jobs were beyond scarce; they were practically nonexistent. Finding a new one was not going to be easy.
My wife knew I wasn’t happy with my situation. One would have to be blind to not see that, but my options were limited, and not a single one seemed good. I was complacent, though. I was comfortable, and I knew the job. Change was the enemy. Even worse, change scared me. Then I got some bad news that scared me even more, and I saw that my future depended on the whims of a marketplace that was slowly dying as more and more customers turned to the Internet or some other form of entertainment. Unemployment wouldn’t pay the bills, either, so I was looking at being pretty well screwed if I didn’t change my work situation and change it quickly.
That fire under my a*s was important, but it wasn’t hot enough to really get me motivated. In fact, it caused me to apply for exactly one job — a government job with great perks, good pay, room for advancement and an actual future. I would also get to spend more time with my family (and get paid for it), and have my medical needs covered. I figured if I had to go to another job, I might as well make it one that takes care of all the things a job should take care of, like money and health care.
I qualified for the job, took the test, scored number one and landed it. It was and is terrifying, and some days I hate it, but most days I like it more than I ever thought possible. Positive change? Hell yeah, in all ways.
Listening to Dante and Randal argue in the jail cell in “Clerks II” brought a lot of that job trauma back to me. I wondered if maybe I gave in to that temptation to belong to “normal” society instead of spending all day hanging out with my friends, reading comic books and getting paid for it. And then I realized the difference.
Randal has Dante. That’s it. I have a wife and child whom I am responsible for. Not in any macho kind of way, but in a human, hey-were-in-this-together type way. The sacrifice I made wasn’t a sacrifice at all. It just felt like one. I had been selfish before, and I had been afraid to take a chance. I conformed to my own comfort zone, never realizing that conformity equals death no matter what values you go by. “Clerks II” gave me a chance to revisit all of that from a different perspective. What worked for Randal, the guy who hates everyone and thinks everything sucks, won’t work for this guy who still feels that way, too. Randal has Dante. I have my wife and daughter. Randall has his old job back and is happy, and I have a new job and am equally happy. It’s not the job that does it, though. It’s more time with my wife, the lack of stress caused by money issues, and the days off we get as a family where we can do things together — it’s all that and more that makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong. There are things I miss about my old job. There were people I liked. But like Randal, I was facing a future of being alone. Physically I’d have my wife and child, but mentally I was dying. I was isolating myself. Randal’s exile would have been imposed. Mine would have been self-induced. The one thing the Randal character showed, though, was that you could only be a smart a*s for so long before you had to prove the smart part. His proof was owning up to his feelings and letting them be known to Dante. He took a leap of faith and tried to make his world right. I did the same thing and had the same results. It’s not always smiles and puppies, but it’s a better place. Kevin Smith and his little movie helped me realize that. I bet I’m not the only one, either. I’m sure there are more people out there facing the same exact thing and wondering why they never did anything about it.
Here’s the kicker — the thing that some people will never understand. It’s not about money, power or prestige. Those things are for people who have complex self-doubt issues. It’s about happiness and trying to find a way to survive without losing your soul and shunning the ones you love. If you can find that mix and make it work, you’re way ahead of the game. I think Kevin Smith gets that (or at least he really knows how to fake it). He’s got a wife, a cute kid, and a dream job. He’s kept most his friends, and he’s found a way to make it all work. I’m sure it’s got its problems, but he manages. Some people may think it has everything to do with more money and freedom (giant pluses, I’m sure), but it has more to do with having some sort of control over your destiny, something Smith exemplified through his characters.
Critics can say what they want about the film, but I think most missed the obvious: Sometimes its okay to just get by … as long as you’re happy doing it. I shouldn’t be too surprised by that, though. Far too many critics are frustrated filmmakers who will never be happy until they can do it better and everyone knows it. I’d pity them … but I have too much fun mocking them in my happy little world filled with hate.
Thank you, Kevin Smith. Thanks for making a film that put things into perspective for me, and thanks for making me laugh while doing it. Thanks for showing Jay naked, and thanks for working a donkey show into the film.
Now finish those “Daredevil/Bullseye.” issues.

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