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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 04, 1994


Kevin Smith
Brian O'Halloran;
Jeff Anderson;
Marilyn Ghigliotti;
Lisa Spoonauer
Under 17 restricted

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Clerks” comes laden with first-time-director lore. Writer/director Kevin Smith raised the $ 27,575 for this bawdy comedy with funds earmarked for his college tuition, the sale of his extensive comic book collection and federal compensation money he received for losing his car in a flood. During the three-week filming period, Smith, now 23, set up his editing shop in the same suburban New Jersey video store where the movie is set. He remains a part-time worker at the video outfit’s neighboring Quick Stop convenience store, which is also part of the story.

Then, after winning the Filmmakers Trophy Award at the Sundance Film Festival, “Clerks” was promptly given an NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America. When Miramax Films sicced lawyer Alan Dershowitz on the MPAA, however, the rating changed miraculously to an R.

So here it is: The film that shocked, a grainy, low-budget, black-and-white movie about low-rent living in a New Jersey suburb. Hysteria notwithstanding, much of “ Clerks” is extremely funny and dead-on—in terms of its intentionally satirical, Gen-X-istential gloom. Since the story’s about dirt-talking characters, the profanity is knee deep, as bored cash-register jockeys Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson, out-there customers and other modern eccentrics engage in endless rounds of sexually graphic repartee. There is talk of genitalia, sexual conquests and a gross activity known as “snowballing.” (You don’t want to know.) It’s clearly not for everyone. But for the right crowd (I see Doc Martens, long hair and black coats—I just don’t see Mom), this is going to be a collegiate and post-collegiate laugh fest.

Dante (O’Halloran), an affable college dropout in his early twenties, works at the Quick Stop. His best friend Randal (Anderson) works in the video store next door. While Dante attempts to get through his unrewarding non-career with as much patience, politeness and dignity as he can muster, Randal is openly abusive of his customers. When the story begins, Dante has been forced to work the morning shift on his off-day. Things go from bad to worse: the storefront metal shutter can’t be opened because someone jammed chewing gum in the lock. His relief shift never shows. He misses his afternoon hockey game. And there’s a calamitous, black-comic finale that will plunge him into unfathomable depression.

During this time, he attempts to hold his hockey game on the convenience store roof, visits a funeral and goes a few rounds with the women in his life. One’s an old flame (Lisa Spoonauer), who returns to jerk his chain again, the other’s his devoted girlfriend (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who—Dante discovers—has an active sexual history.

The movie has its share of weaknesses. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes tiresomely sophomoric; and actress Ghigliotti produces a veritable forest of wooden line readings. But “Clerks” never loses its own sleazy self-confidence. Under that hard-edged outer layer, there’s actually a heart. Dante’s basically a gentleman and a pure romantic. And for all his nastiness, Randal’s devoted to Dante. Together, they have a scuzzy charm. Randal, who produces a plurality of dark one-liners, has his own, nihilistic integrity. It’s his moral refusal to accept his social position that fuels his disdain for the customers.

“You hate people,” Dante reminds him at one point, when Randal expresses a wish to attend the aforementioned funeral.

“But I love gatherings,” says Randal. “Isn’t it ironic?”

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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