The “Slacker” generation is alive and well in “Clerks,” a randy, irreverent, slice-of-life no-budgeter that’s played for laughs and gets them. This view of the world from behind the counter at a no-account convenience store is both appealingly minimalist and amusingly deadpan, and will strike a sympathetic chord with Generation X-ers and indie film buffs, indicating a reasonable future on the urban and college town specialized circuit.
Allegedly the cheapest picture in Sundance this year at $ 27,000, “Clerks” was made by a film school dropout who was actually working at a convenience store during production. Pic chronicles a day in the life of Quick Stop Groceries, a pit stop for assorted loafers, layabouts, weirdos, ne’er-do-wells and derelicts in Springsteen Country — Asbury Park, N.J.
Called to fill in at the store on his day off, 22-year-old Dante (Brian O’Halloran) barely has the place open at 6 a.m. before being confronted with an anti-smoking maniac who scares off a slew of potential patrons with his tirades.
Shortly, Dante’s girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) turns up and incites a huge argument when she informs him how many men she’s had oral sex with. More customers are put off by Dante’s antagonistic friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), who runs the adjacent videostore, and before the day is over a circus of mangy humanity has paraded through the establishment seeking sustenance of the edible, physical and emotional varieties.
At first, given the naturalistic environment, non-pro actors and bargain-basement black-and-white look, the rapid-fire comic delivery of the abundant dialogue sounds jarringly artificial. With the films of Richard Linklater (“Slacker”), Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Spike Lee as influences acknowledged in the credits, one doesn’t expect banter that seems as though it was honed in vaudeville.
But once the adjustment is made, pic sails along smoothly, as what amount to blackout sketches run the gamut from absurdist comedy and low-key social commentary to outrageously smutty gags and rude, off-the-wall remarks.
Although arbitrarily divided into sections sporting such chapter headings as “Syntax,” “Vagary” and “Malaise,” pic feels much more slapdash and less self-consciously aesthetic than its spiritual forebears.
With no narrative per se and nothing holding it together except unity of time and place, it’s surprising that “Clerks” plays as well, and consistently, as it does, with very little down time.
Based on the quick, attitudinally attuned humor the script reveals in abundance, writer-director Kevin Smith could probably easily get a job writing for “Saturday Night Live” instead of making another film.
But he’s obtained fine timing from his amateur cast, and the impudenceand boldness of his comic strategies are impressive, especially sustained over a slightly overlong feature running time.
Technically elementary but still perfectly watchable, “Clerks” is a grunge movie par excellence.