3:15 pm EDT, July 5, 2016

Confessions of a cult classic junkie: I’ve never seen Kevin Smith’s movies (until now)

Seeing Kevin Smith speak passionately about his films made me want to seek them out and experience all of them for the first time. So I did.

Last week, I told you how I saw Yoga Hosers at Indy PopCon and became a brand new Kevin Smith fan. I also said I’d watch as many of his major films as I could get my hands on, and now I’m delivering on that promise.

Fellow Hypabuddy Danielle and I decided to tackle his films together. It’s been a blast counting down from three and hitting play at the exact same time, only to spend the next two hours furiously texting back and forth. “OMG SO FUNNY.” “WTF just happened?” “Was that a Clerks reference?” “JAY AND SILENT BOB ARE THE BEST.”

I imagine this article will appeal to both old and new Kevin Smith fans. On the one hand, long-time followers of the filmmaker may find it interesting to see what a newbie thinks of the movies in 2016. On the other hand, those curious about Kevin Smith’s filmography may be wondering what they’re getting into. This article is for both of you.

‘Clerks’

clerks

Clerks is a good first movie to jump into when you’re wanting to explore some of Kevin Smith’s back catalog. It’s just weird enough to give you a sense of his humor and perspective on life without introducing too many other elements that may drive first-time fans away. (Then again, I survived Yoga Hosers and there were Nazi sausages involved. Clearly I am not weak-willed.)

Dante’s role is also easy to slip into, which makes this movie relatable on at least some level, even if dick jokes and weed humor aren’t really your thing. Randal was a little harder to swallow, given he had even less of a filter than Dante, but it was counterbalanced so smoothly by his ability to lay down truth bombs that, in the end, I almost forgave him for some of the awful things he said and did.

Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or maybe it’s Smith’s intention, but I’ve noticed a lot of his male characters are kind of awful. I say kind of because they tend to balk at political correctness — and why shouldn’t they, if they’re just hanging out with their buddies — but often have a good heart. No filter and a good heart also describes Kevin Smith, and since these movies were full of the kind of jokes he and his friends would laugh at, that makes all sorts of sense.

What really surprised me about Clerks, as well as his other movies, was the strength of his female characters. I guess it was all the dick jokes that had me thinking he’d be unable to write strong women into his movies, but that was clearly short-sighted on my part. Veronica, and even Caitlin, are both sex-positive characters who, unlike Dante, put their careers ahead of their love lives. This idea goes against the grain even now, but I found it empowering. The women are, at least from my perspective, much more likable than the men.

I also want to briefly mention Jay and Silent Bob, who I will definitely be talking about more in later sections. Jay is, at first, a pretty big dick, but he’s counterbalanced by Silent Bob’s quiet and gentle nature. I actually had no clue Silent Bob spoke at all in these movies, so imagine my astonishment when he opened his mouth and proceeded to provide sage advice to Dante. Brilliant.

‘Mallrats’

mallrats

A couple people warned me ahead of Mallrats that it wouldn’t be as good as Clerks. I think, in some aspects, that’s true. The humor was a lot more vulgar and some of the male leads were a lot more disenchanting. That said, when Mallrats was good, it was really, really good. There was more of a plot in this film, which helped it feel less like a miniseries and more like an actual movie.

The young and fresh-faced soon-to-be stars also made me excited to tune in. Shannen Doherty went on to become one of the main characters in my all-time favorite show, Charmed, and, of course, you can’t discount Ben Affleck’s minor role, despite his character being an absolute douche. Little appearances from a few of the Clerks actors, like the guy who played Dante, also got me excited. And then there’s the always-adorable-but-sometimes-antagonistic Ethan Suplee, whom I know best from Boy Meets World.

But let’s not forget about Jay and Silent Bob, who have quickly become my favorite part of these movies. Jay still says some awful, awful things, but his carefree, mischievousness is without malevolence and that somehow makes it endearing. Bob, on the other hand, has won my heart completely, and I live for the times when he deems it necessary to talk. I love that he doesn’t stay silent for any particular reason, only that he speaks when he has something worthy to say. Jay could probably learn from that philosophy, though I doubt he ever will.

‘Chasing Amy’

chasing amy

Chasing Amy starts out rough. Both Ben Affleck and Jason Lee’s characters are grating, especially when it comes to Banky’s penchant for spouting gay slanders. Once again, the female lead, played by Joey Lauren Adams, could run circles around the boys. She is a complex, fully developed character, whereas Holden often felt flat and clunky, his arc choppier and less cohesive than hers.

But despite the beginning of the movie making me feel distant and uncomfortable, Holden and Alyssa’s complex romance soon swept me away. This movie is about the fluidity of sexuality. I heard some complaints prior to going in that some were upset Kevin Smith made Alyssa fall in love with Holden, as if he “fixed” her of her lesbianism. But if you watch the movie and, like, pay attention, you’ll see how directly they confront this aspect of Alyssa’s character. Falling in love with Holden rocks her world. She is, very comfortably, a lesbian, and yet she fell in love with Holden as a person, not as a gender. Though I wish Banky’s story could’ve been better fleshed out and his issues resolved, I found the unfinished aspects of this story particularly true to life.

In fact, I’ve never seen a movie that has so directly spoken out about sexuality and orientation. I’m not saying they don’t exist; rather, that they’re rare. Seeing Kevin Smith take on the subject with such honesty and open-mindedness is refreshing. The dialogue, in this movie in particular, continues to be on a whole different level, above and beyond your average back and forth diatribe. I noticed it in Clerks with the extended single shots, but even here, particularly with the shouting match between Holden and Alyssa, I can see how completely raw it is.

I know I keep saying it, but it’s worth repeating. This movie, and Kevin Smith’s movies so far, are honest, and brutally so. For better or for worse, they do not hold back, and though I don’t always like or agree with what’s being said, there’s something invigorating about seeing such raw reality on the screen. It feels unscripted in a way that paints these characters as true-to-life characters, so much so that I’m finding myself thinking about them long after the movie has finished.

‘Dogma’

dogma

As I’ve told friends (and Twitter) that I’m doing this marathon, time and time again everyone has hyped Dogma. All I knew going into this was that Alan Rickman was in it and his character didn’t have a penis. What does it say about me that I found this information intriguing? Either way, I went into Dogma with high expectations and I was not disappointed.

With the progression of his movies, Smith has tackled more difficult topics. The warning at the beginning of Dogma indicates he knew exactly what sort of hot water he could get into if people didn’t understand where he was coming from at the start of this film. But Dogma carries the same message that most religious movies attempt to relay. Tolerance. Love. Heart. Accountability. It’s all there mixed in with stereotypical stoner humor and slapstick comedy. These two elements shouldn’t work together, but as is often the case with Kevin Smith’s movies, they do. By now I should stop being surprised.

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as rebellious angels is just the tip of the iceberg here. Alan Rickman. Chris Rock. George Carlin. Alanis Morrissette. It’s a big roster with a big message and I ate up every second of it. In a lot of ways, Jay and Silent Bob lead the movie, in that they guide Bethany toward her destiny. Of course they’d be the prophets she was looking for. Are you really that surprised?

Seeing Jay and Bob take on a meatier role in this film was gratifying, but just knowing a film like Dogma exists in the world would have been enough. Tackling losing one’s faith and corruption in the church and religious tolerance is not so easy, but Smith can do it all and still have our heroes attacked by a shit demon. Just like in Chasing Amy, I found myself engrossed in the conversation being presented, questioning my own beliefs and perspectives, surprised by the depth of the dialogue. And, yeah, I cried a little, too.

‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’

jay and silent bob strike back

This film is like a greatest hits album. It had a ton of cameos, from old hats like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to newcomers like Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. In terms of plot and story, it was more on par with Clerks and Mallrats than message-heavy films like Chasing Amy and Dogma, but I also think that was appropriate for an entire feature focused on this duo.

Over the last four films, I’ve welcomed this pair into my heart. I won’t say I like everything that comes out of Jay’s mouth, but at the end of the day he still wants to be the hero of his own story (and who doesn’t?). Bob is easier to love, with his funny expressions and his welcome wisdom. Throw in an orangutan and what else do you need?

It’s hard to say this movie is adorable considering some of the antics the pair get up to, but I’m finding it difficult to come up with a better word for it. It’s funny, and dare I say it, charming in its own wacky way. The constant breaking of the fourth wall was not only downright hilarious, but absolutely perfect for Jay and Silent Bob’s solo outing. This wasn’t meant to be a movie where you thought deeply about your life choices; it’s a movie to make you laugh, and it certainly did just that.

‘Clerks II’

clerks ii

I have to admit that this final installment is probably my least favorite of the aforementioned movies. Most of that has to do with Randal, who is nothing short of just a terrible person. By the end of the movie you see his insecurities and I even found myself wanting him to be happy, but it in no way makes up for all of the disgusting things he’s said and done. He is not a good friend.

Honestly, I don’t sympathize with Dante much more. He’s a much better person, and I maybe even like him, but this is the second movie he’s featured in where he emotionally cheated on his significant other, and in this case, he physically cheated on her, too. Don’t get me wrong, Becky was way better than Emma, and I was truly happy when they got together in the end, but I think Kevin Smith sums up my feelings pretty well in his thank you note to Rosario Dawson at the end of the movie: “For saying yes and turning in a performance so great, it made me actually believe that Becky would fuck Dante.”

The humor fell flat for me in most of the movie, especially when it came to that whole bestiality section (I mean, really, what was the point?), but that said, I didn’t outright hate this movie. The subtle nods to the original and the full circle ending were gratifying. It also had a lot more plot than the original, and I enjoyed seeing each character’s arc play out. The jail cell scene between Dante and Randal was my favorite part because they said what needed to be said and in the end they ended up strengthening their friendship rather than discarding it.

As always, it was nice to return to Jay and Silent Bob, both of whom seem older and more mature in this film. Bob’s lack of wisdom played out nicely in contrast to his now expected sage advice. But Jay was the real hero. He was still weird and uncomfortable in most of his scenes, but Jason Mewes’ sobriety shows. It’s not that he feels like a completely different person; he just feels like a better version of himself.

Final thoughts

jay and silent bob

After I watched Yoga Hosers, there was a lot of confused laughter. What was it I had just seen? Did I understand it? Did I want to understand it? The only thing I knew was that I had liked it, but I had no idea why. That’s what made me want to watch the rest of Kevin Smith’s movies. I wanted to be able to explain the seemingly inexplicable.

Jumping into the first movie in the View Askiewniverse saga, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew very little about Clerks or any of the films that followed, and yet I got more and more excited to watch each one. I wanted to see what came next. I wanted to see how they would top the last one. I wanted to see how Ben Affleck’s facial hair would change between movies.

I think everyone walks away from these movies with a different message. For some I’m sure it’s the stoner humor and ridiculously off-the-wall comedy that sticks out. For me, it’s the deeper message. In Clerks and Clerks II, it’s the idea that you make your own destiny. In Chasing Amy, it’s about love and sexual fluidity and understanding that people are complex and messy and difficult to understand. For Dogma, it’s about tolerance and love and forgiveness. And for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? Well, it’s about laughing at your own shortcomings and remembering you got Carrie Fisher to play a scandalized nun and Mark Hamill to play a supervillain named Cocknocker.

So, you know, life could be worse.

Are you a new Kevin Smith fan, or are you looking to dive into his world for the first time?

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