Case in point: Has Smith ever made a movie that’s funnier or more profound than “Clerks” (1994)? This was the first film Smith ever made-and when I say “first,” I mean it literally. Smith dropped out of Vancouver Film School after one semester, and he was only 22 when he financed the $27,575 budget of “Clerks” by maxing out 10 credit cards and selling off his comic book collection. $27,575 is less than most movies’ budgets for catering. Smith credits the catering for “Clerks” to Quick Stop Convenience Store, which also served as the set for almost every scene.
Some may prefer the bittersweet straight guy/lesbian gal romance of “Chasing Amy,” but in my opinion Smith has a better feel for the clerks’ existential boredom than he has for the ins and outs of sexual psychology. (The conclusion of “Chasing Amy,” when Ben Affleck matter-of-factly proposes a menage a trois, still strikes me as ludicrous.)
The plot of “Clerks” is simplicity itself: a day in the life of Dante (Brian O’Halloran), a college dropout who, like Smith himself at the time the film was made, slaves in a convenience store. Accompanied by his best friend, Randal (the hilariously uncouth Jeff Anderson, in his first and, lamentably, last starring role), who works at the video store next door, Dante deals with inane customers, anti-cigarette activists, drug dealers, egg fetishists, girlfriends past and present and a dead guy in the bathroom. Along the way, there is a fist fight, a roller hockey game and a funeral.
In the original script, Dante is shot in the end, which may make the whole enterprise seem rather morbid. Note, however, that Dante in fact survives his 7-Eleven hell, the dead guy in the bathroom manages to get laid posthumously, and the funeral is the result of death-by-fellatio. If this sounds confusing, see the film. Check any puritanical tendencies at the door; “Clerks” was originally rated NC-17 for language.
Final note: The clerks, especially Randal (remember that Anderson had no previous acting experience), are constantly delivering their lines while reading newspapers or magazines. My theory is that they are actually reading directly off their scripts.