Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Clerks.”
The Movie: “Clerks”
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti
Director: Kevin Smith
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A day in the lives of two convenience clerks named Dante and Randal as they annoy customers, discuss movies, and play hockey on the store roof.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90 percent
Froemming: Well, Halloween Month is now behind us, but for this review, I decided to relive an era of my life which I still have nightmares about: Working retail.
And what better movie is there that represents the insanity and boringness of standing behind a counter either bullshitting with people or being verbally attacked by customers than “Clerks?” Kevin Smith’s 1994 comedy that helped popularize independent film while also letting nerds like me at the time know that it is perfectly fine debating the ethics of the Rebel Alliance blowing up the second Death Star in “Return of the Jedi.”
I saw this after I saw “Mallrats” and a year or so before I entered the job market as a pimply teen with the title of “sandwich artist” at the Subway at the mall. And a few years after that, customizing T-shirts at one store and selling used CDs and records at two different stores in my 20s.
And this movie gets retail down. Sure, I never saw anyone have sex with a dead guy in a bathroom, but just about everything else is spot on. I also saw a dead guy at the mall once, so, again, not too far off. The crazy customers, the stupid questions, everything is shockingly on-point.
And I like to think there is a little DNA of “Clerks” in the JOE-DOWN. Two guys talking bullshit about movies. Me, the responsible and level-headed one, and Brown who gaslights me every chance he gets with his snark.
Anyway, as I get the roof prepped for a game of street hockey, why don’t you give us your first thoughts, Brown?
Brown: After years of calling me an arthouse goon with my picks, YOU choose the black-and-white movie with persnickety title cards throughout.
Froemming: There you go, gaslighting me again.
Brown: Someone has to call you out on your bourgeois taste in cinema, turning your nose up to the workin’ man that reads the JOE-DOWN.
So I never worked in retail, so I can’t relate to “Clerks” the same way Froemming does. But, this movie was absolutely in my wheelhouse when I saw it in high school. I tend to talk a lot about pop culture that my other friends simply do not care about. I’m also a fan of salsa sharks and discussing why rough toilet paper is the worst.
Also, the “Chewbacca” song, I absolutely downloaded that on Limewire once upon a time and put it on several burned CDs.
Froemming: Limewire gave my computer AIDS when I used it.
Brown: It gave every family’s computer a terminal illness.
So on that note, get us started, Froemming. I’m going to look for the perfect carton of eggs.
Froemming: So, we begin with everyone who worked or works in retail’s worst nightmare: Being called into work to open after working a closing shift. We meet Dante Hicks, a man who sleeps in his closet and folds when pressured just a little by his boss to come into work. And since he works at a convenience store, my guess is that closing was midnight and opening is 6 a.m., which is a horrible situation.
So, he gets to work and this is when I realized Dante Hicks, that sunofabitch, helped destroy print journalism. See, he notices the racks are empty of newspapers, so he goes to a vending machine that sold newspapers. But instead of taking just one, that dirty sunofabitch takes all of them for the quarter he put in. A quarter, I might add, he gets back.
Thanks for ruining print journalism, Mr. Hicks.
Brown: I hope that one day, Dante gets his wallet stuck in the vending machine and gets robbed by a nice old lady on a motorized cart like Lloyd Christmas.
Also, I’m curious if Dante’s getting overtime for this impromptu shift. Because if he is, I feel less bad for him throughout this movie. Again, never worked retail, so Froemming, think he got OT?
Froemming: My guess is he is a 32-hour employee, so he gets a bigger check but not time-and-a-half.
Oh, and he can’t open the shutters to get some sunlight in because someone jammed the locks with gum. Which, honestly, is pretty funny. Though I don’t see why he couldn’t just scrape the gum out or call a locksmith. So he has to use shoe polish and a bedsheet to make a sign to let the customers know the store is open.
Brown: Gum is the bane of Dante’s existence on this day.
One of his first customers is a gentleman who gets a cup of coffee and carries around a duffel bag with a smoker’s lung in it? I … feel like that’s something you should have a cooler for.
Froemming: Well, once working at the shirt store, a man came in and while I was placing iron-on letters on a shirt he wanted made, he took a handgun out and cleaned it as he told me about how he got a metal plate in his head during the Vietnam War. The gun, prior to the cleaning, was fully loaded.
Retail is fun.
Brown: This is up there with your Phish hippie fight story as the most baffling thing you’ve ever told me about your life.
Anyways, this guy starts calling Dante a merchant of death for selling cigarettes at a convenience store and gets people to throw cigarettes at the poor guy.
By the way, a gaslighting gum salesman seems like a proper job in 2022.
Oh, we find out this guy is here to help sell gum on a Saturday when Dante’s girlfriend Veronica shows up and sprays everyone with a fire extinguisher.
My question: Why is a gum salesman working on a Saturday? That seems like the kind of soul-sucking work you do strictly as a M-F 9-to-5. I’d hate that job, and well…
Froemming: I can buy it because there are literally people who just hang out in stores because they don’t want to be at home. It is really weird, man. They would just suck the joy out of me as they stood around babbling on about nothing, wasting my time.
Anyway, Dante and Veronica sit behind the counter, with a money pile for change above them. Basically the honor system via a little paranoia because people think they are being watched.
The couple then discuss sex and their sex lives, which while important, can be the dumbest thing to talk about in your early 20s because everyone is a jealous idiot in their early 20s. Everyone. Veronica says she only slept with three guys. Then old Willam “Snowball” Black comes in, and to Snowball, everything is great, man. Just great.
Brown: That is, until Veronica explains to Dante what a snowball is. See, it’s…
And well, apparently Veronica experienced that first-hand because she …
… on 36 guys. Well, 37 if you count Dante.
Froemming: In a row?
Brown: The movie leaves that open to interpretation?
But, that brings up a good point about this movie’s legacy. See, this is one of those movies where most of the jokes come from the dialogue. And that kind of comedic movie is really prevalent nowadays, especially in a Judd Apatow movie. This was a trailblazer in the 90s for superb scriptwriting being the crux of the laughs, but there’s enough sight gags and other comedic pulls that make this movie feel more timeless in its laughs. I feel like nowadays, comedies tend to stick with the slick writing and the movies, I don’t know, feel like there’s wasted potential while trying to emulate what Kevin Smith did with this flick.
And how is much of the comedy conveyed in this movie? Why, it’s when Randal shows up (a half-hour late) to work at the video store next door. Now, Dante and Randal can spend all day spitting barbs at each other.
Froemming: And we see how Dante has to always deal with Randal’s crap or the fallout of it. He has an angry customer yelling at him because Randal is late, how he saw Randal sleeping on the job and then insults Dante by basically calling him a loser working a shit job.
Customers like this are all too real. So, I don’t blame Dante at all for throwing the man’s keys in the trash. I would have done the same.
Randal comes in, sees Dante and says if he had known Dante was working, he would have come in even later. Takes just a few seconds for us to know who Randal is. We all know that guy. Brown is that guy to me. Gaslighting me nonstop.
Brown: What a move: gaslighting me by complaining about gaslighting. Why are we friends?
I’m sure Dante asks himself that a lot whilst Randal does his schtick. Then again, Dante is now fretting over his ex-girlfriend Caitlin. Dante still carries a flame for her and they recently started talking again. Dante is thinking of leaving Veronica for Caitlin because he assumes Caitlin wants to be with him in her post-college crisis panic.
… Because that’s a healthy way to rekindle a relationship, Dante. You’re right, Froemming. Everyone is a jealous idiot in their 20s.
However, Randal is the bearer of bad news when he shows Dante an engagement announcement in the local paper for Caitlin and “an Asian design major.”
Froemming, in all your years of page layout, have you ever used a person’s job/college major for a headline in an engagement announcement?
Froemming: Never. Though that stuff is sometimes mentioned in the body copy. “So and so graduated from some college with a major in whatever.” But never a headline. And, I need to stress, I have no idea what an Asian design major would be. Seems pretty specific of a major, no? I am glad “Clerks 3” addresses this a little, because I was pretty confused by that for many years.
Also, Caitlin cheated on Dante all the time. She even gets half-a-cheat because she once slept with him thinking he was another guy. Holy shit, Dante is a rube.
Brown: Is it considered being cucked if you’re mistaken as another person?
Froemming: Let’s leave that to the suits in Washington to figure out.
We also meet Jay and Silent Bob for the first time. A duo that was fun in small bits but got out of control with TWO movies all about them. They are just drug dealers who hang out outside the store. But, they do have good little moments, like Silent Bob’s cousin from Russia who is in a band called (REDACTED) Your Yankee Blue Jeans, which is one of the best names of a band I have ever heard.
Brown: I think “Berserker” could have been a major metal hit following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Also, I know Jay and Silent Bob are stoned dummies, but is it exactly good business for weed dealers to start their work day at, what, 9 a.m. on a Saturday?
Whatever. They have stoner charm so I enjoy their work. Also, as we find out in “Dogma,” they are prophets of God that assault kids.
We could go scene-by-scene with this movie, but like “Caddyshack,” this movie is 10-to-15 minute skits put together over 90ish minutes.
Froemming: Yup. Basically before we get to the wild ending we have two major scenes. The hockey on the roof scene, because this is all Dante wanted to do all day, but his boss lied to him and headed to Vermont, so he is stuck. Not sure why he just didn’t say “screw it” and close the store. I would have.
Brown: I get the visual is cool with roller hockey on the roof of the Quick Stop. But that’s a restrictive way to play. Case in point: the ball gets lifted over the roof, it’s game over. And that’s exactly what happens.
Thank you for acknowledging my worry, movie.
Froemming: And the second is the wake for Julie Dwyer, who died in the YMCA swimming pool mid-backstroke because T.S. in “Mallrats” told her, before her TV premier on a dating show, the camera adds 10 pounds. Though on the way there, Dante and Randal have a conversation I could totally see myself having with Brown. We might have had it on our road trip to Illinois this year for a wedding.
Yeah, they end up having to bolt from the funeral after Randal accidentally knocks over the casket.
Oh, before the funeral, there’s also an older gentleman that asks to use the bathroom at the Quick Stop, but not before grabbing two-ply toilet paper and a porno. That comes into play later.
Dante mans the convenience store while Randal leaves to go to a different video store where he rents porn. Not just any porn, it’s …
The place he goes is suggested to be like a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video. I… don’t recall those places having porno sections. The seedy local places in my hometown, absolutely! They had the beaded “doors” and everything. But a chain? Not so much.
Froemming: The local video stores had them. The chains? I honestly never saw adult movies there. And before we move on, I have to mention my favorite sight gag in the movie.
The guy complaining is buying windex and paper towels. Once a friend pointed that out to me, it has now become one of my favorite in all of movies.
Brown: “Clerks” also has one of my favorite out-of-context jokes I’ve seen in a movie.
Froemming: When I worked at CD Warehouse and someone came in to either sell that movie or buy it on DVD, I would say that. Every. Time.
So now we head into the end of this day-in-the-life of Dante. Caitlin is back in town because she knew Dante was going to freak out about that wedding announcement. This is a toxic-as-hell relationship. Because people in their early 20s are real dumbasses. Dante, wanting to rekindle this toxic love, asks her out on a date and she agrees. They both go home to get ready while Randal mans the store watching his porno in front of everyone. Like, he is not even phased or concerned he is watching porn — and, to be honest, a very niche kind of porn — in front of everyone.
Brown: To quote Patton Oswalt (out of context, but still), that is the confidence of a serial killer.
Froemming: He does threaten to kill Caitlin if she hurts Dante again. Which, if he is a serial killer, he is a good friend sort of serial killer.
Brown: I mean, I’m sure Gacy had people that thought he was a stand-up friend.
Froemming: Caitlin goes to use the bathroom, which does not have working lights because of a feud between the electrician and the store owners, which is a detail I love because of how true that can be.
Dante shows up in his Cosby Sweater, ready to rekindle this love (even though he already has a great girlfriend who transferred schools to be near him and convince him to go back to school. Dante is a real sunofabitch). Randal is too engaged with his movie to really care what is going on.
And then Caitlin comes back, looking like she just took a spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
She says she met with Dante back there, and they did the nasty back there. And that Dante let her do all the work, like he is Kramer or something.
Brown: Yeah… turns out that Caitlin (REDACTED) a dead guy. Namely, the old guy from before that ended up masturbating in a convenience store bathroom.
So, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride ended up a nightmare more like Willy Wonka’s River Boat Ride.
So an ambulance arrives to pick up both the dead body AND Caitlin, who is rightfully traumatized after unknowingly committing necrophilia.
Dante… is more concerned that this means his relationship prospects with Caitlin are over. You know, instead of being concerned about Caitlin’s well-being and mental duress, he makes it about himself.
Dante’s a (REDACTED) monster.
Froemming: He is, and I am glad Randal tells Veronica about all this, because she should know that Dante is pulling crap behind her back. This was not Randal being a good friend to Dante, but it is him being a good person to Veronica. And she rightfully calls Dante out on his shit.
So when Dante attacks Randal here, he is absolutely not justified. He is the bad guy, not Randal.
Brown: We should mention that Dante had an epiphany after Silent Bob reminds Dante of what he has. Bob’s one line in this movie: “There’s a lot of good-looking women out there. But not all of them bring you lasagna.” And it’s here that Dante realizes how good Veronica is and that he loves her…
But… I still feel no sympathy for the devil here. Dante sucks. And he deserves the karma that comes his way.
Froemming: I also love how even the drug dealers have an end to their shift. Jay and Silent Bob grabbing snacks before they go to Atlantic City to get laid and do some blow. I find that amusing.
Anyway, Dante then attacks Randal because he thinks the fall of his relationship is his friend’s fault.
It wasn’t. It was Dante’s fault. And after beating one another with bread and other snack items from the shelves, Randal calls Dante out on his shit and their situation in life.
Brown: Dante is left speechless because yes, porno-in-public weirdo Randal is absolutely right about Dante.
So this is the kick in the butt that Dante needs to start getting his young life in order. He also plans on visiting Caitlin in the hospital and trying to reconcile with Veronica.
I hope both of them don’t give the dude the time of day. I’d love to have a woman who loves me unconditionally, wants me to be better and makes me lasagna. Dante has proven he doesn’t deserve that. He also doesn’t deserve Rosario Dawson in the sequels, but that’s for another time.
Now I’m worked up and wish Kevin Smith would have gone with the alternate ending to “Clerks.”
Froemming: That ending is pretty jarring for a comedy. Plus, Dante is stuck with Randal making his life hell, so maybe that is a better punishment?
Anyway, let’s check the expiration date on the milk cartons down in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah. It is still great. Technology changes, but I am sure a lot of this movie still rings true to people working retail jobs.
Brown: Yep. This is an entertaining, well-written watch. It strikes a chord with folks who work retail and arthouse goons like Froemming.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: