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"This job would be great if it wasn't for the fucking customers."
"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
An independent comedy film that was finished in 1993, but not theatrically released until 1994. It was written and directed by Kevin Smith and is his first film. Clerks cost $27,000 to make, roughly the same price as a new car at the time. The film's final cost was $230,000 after the rights to the film's grunge and punk oriented soundtrack is added in, making it one of the few films in history where the rights to the soundtrack actually cost more than the film.
Clerks was shot in the same convenience store where Smith worked at the time and featured a cast made up of Smith's friends (such as Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes and Scott Mosier) and family (in various small roles) and a few local actors (such as Brian O'Halloran, who plays the lead role of Dante Hicks). When released, the film made its budget back several times over. Its success enabled Smith to make several more films with some of the same characters and settings.
Surprisingly for a film with profanity and vulgar references, it manages to stay quite intelligent and upon release, it was well received by critics such as Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. The film's success helped jump start the modern independent film industry (which actually began with Sex, Lies, and Videotape) and turned Miramax into a major distributor for said independent films, rivalled only by Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Fox Searchlight.
The film is about a day in the life of a pair of friends, Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, working at Quick Stop and RST Video, respectively. Another pair of friends, Jay and Silent Bob, deal drugs and hang out around Quick Stop. Dante is forced to come to work, although he wasn't supposed to be there that day (as he will constantly remind you).
Some time later, Randal shows up for work. He spends most of his day at the Quick Stop rather than working, though. Dante's girlfriend, Veronica, comes over to talk to him. There he finds out that she has... had quite a lot of fun. It's yet another thing Dante obsesses over.
Later on, Dante closes up shop, because he had a game to play that day. They play on the roof, but after a annoyed customer comes up, joins the game, and loses the puck, they have to stop and get back to work. They also go to a funeral, meet up with Dante's ex-girlfriend, who goes through some trauma, and get in a fight. In the end, they stop arguing and close up for the day.
The earliest part of The View Askewniverse (though Mallrats, which came out later, is actually set the day before the events of Clerks). With the obvious exception of Jay and Silent Bob, Dante and Randal are the most frequently recurring characters in the verse, having starred in an Animated Adaptation, Clerks the Animated Series, several comics and more recently in a true sequel in the film, Clerks II.
Clerks was named to the National Film Registry in 2019.
- Absurdly High Stakes Game: The film itself. Kevin Smith financed the movie by hocking valuable comic books and buying supplies on his credit card. Had the movie flopped or not been picked up by a major studio, he'd have been left with tens of thousands in high-interest debt with no real job prospects.
- Addiction Displacement: Subverted--it's being encouraged as a stealth marketing stunt for a gum company.
- Author Avatar: Kevin Smith specifically wrote the part of Randal for himself ("Which is why he has all the best lines!"), but found himself unable to handle such a big part in addition to directorial duties - which is why Jeff Anderson was brought in.
- Baguette Beatdown: During the fight scene.
- Betty and Veronica: Veronica is, ironically, the Betty. Caitlin is more of a Veronica.
- Blatant Lies: When Dante claims he was working "all day". Of course this backfires horribly.
- Brick Joke: Randal mentions that he once had a cousin who died attempting autofellatio. A coroner later mentions that the strangest thing she had ever seen was when she had to tag a kid who died attempting autofellatio.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Randal. Cunning, manipulative, acid-tongued, and very obviously whip-smart, yet content with his lot in life as a store clerk (and he doesn't even take that seriously).
- Butt Monkey: Dante, although it's largely his own fault.
- Call Back:
- Olaf sings the lyrics to "Berserker" outside the Quick Stop; later on, when Jay sticks the speech bubble on the window of the Quick Stop, the song, presumably performed by Olaf's "band", appears on the soundtrack. (1h10m)
- Rick Darris saying he fucked Caitlin when Dante was dating her is a callback to earlier when Dante said Caitlin had cheated on him "8 1/2 times".
- Can't You Read the Sign?: Many of the two stores' customers.
- Catch Phrase: "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
- Chekhov's Gunman: The elderly, customer (see below) and a little girl to whom Randal sells cigarettes.
- Cluster F-Bomb: If the heading quote wasn't a warning, this is.
- So much so that the MPAA was originally going to rate the movie NC-17 solely for the language.
- Concept Video: The video for Soul Asylum's "Can't Even Tell" was directed by Kevin Smith, and includes all the characters from the film playing roof hockey with the band while Jay lip-synchs the song by singing into a hockey stick.
- It's notable that the while the movie is in black and white the Video is in color.
- Covers Always Lie: By the look of the poster, you would think that Veronica, Caitlin and Silent Bob also are clerks.
- Cult Soundtrack: After the film was bought by Miramax, the studio added a very contemporary grunge/punk soundtrack. It was the first time in history that a film's soundtrack cost more than the entire production of the film (film: $27,000.00 Music: $30,000.00).
- Dead Baby Comedy: The whole film qualifies, but especially the ending, which features Caitlin accidentally having sex with a dead guy and having a mental breakdown over it.
- According to Randall, how his cousin Walter died.
- Deliberately Monochrome
- Dismotivation: Dante.
- Downer Ending: In the original cut, an armed robber enters the store right after closing, shoots Dante dead and empties the cash register. The protests of the film's agent John Pierson, as well as those of damn near everyone else involved (most prominently supporter Bob Hawk and star Brian O'Halloran), led to Smith cutting the ending short, and he professes to liking the final version better.
- Dumbass Has a Point: Jay and Silent Bob make a good point about Veronica being a good girlfriend.
Silent Bob: You know, there's a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you.
- Early-Bird Cameo: In the music video "Can't Even Tell", there's a little boy with a ball (just like the View Askew bumper) wearing a helmet.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Three guesses as to what this movie's about.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over a single day.
- Fauxshadow: Dante's catchphrase was originally intended to set up the film's Downer Ending (which was changed due to Executive Meddling).
- Foil: Two-person example. The Jay/Silent Bob duo is a Foil for the Dante/Randall one. Both of them are pairs of Vitriolic Best Buds, with a cocky, fair-haired Red Oni and a more cool-headed, dark-haired Blue Oni with a goatee. The difference is that (as Randall points out at the end) Jay and Silent Bob actually choose their bottom-rung jobs and freely embrace their status as hopeless lowlives, while Dante and Randall are still riddled with angst about theirs.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Dante is melancholic, Randal is sanguine, Jay is choleric, and Silent Bob is phlegmatic/phlegmatic II.
- Fridge Logic:
Caitlin: I didn't just fuck myself!
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Averted. That weed wasn't a prop.
- Gilligan Cut: "Nobody's there, 4 o'clock on a Saturday. How many people ever come to the store at 4 on a Saturday?" Cut to an angry mob trying to get in the store.
- And immediately before, when Dante stated he would not close the store again.
- Randal and Dante enter the funeral. "Five Minutes Later". Cut to Randal and Dante running out, chased by an angry mob.
- Godwin's Law: The gum marketer compares shop-clerks who sell cigarettes to Nazis.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Jay.
- Completely averted with Randal, who has no problem watching hermaphroditic porn.
"Chicks with dicks that put mine to shame."
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Jay and Silent Bob. Also Dante and Randal. Which leads to...
- Jerkass: Randal, so much.
- Also, to some, Dante. At least when it comes to the women he dates and to blaming all his problems on other people.
- Most of the customers are incredible jerkasses.
- The customer whose keys were thrown away by Dante.
- The guy who was supposed to be working. Turns out, he's not sick, he isn't coming in later, he instead ran off to Vermont.
- The Gum Representative who incites the crowd of smokers to pelt Dante with cigarettes, so he can trick them to buy Gum.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Randal may be an asshole but he makes some good points.
- Sanford, one of Dante and Randal's friends.
Sanford: Responsibility? What responsibility? You're closing the fucking store to play hockey!
- Leave the Camera Running: Many scenes, particularly the one in which we are introduced to Chekhov's Gunman. This was done primarily due to lack of physical space — the Quick Stop is a tiny, tiny building — and budget and lighting constraints.
- Lucky Charms Title: The original title of the movie is Clerks. (with a period at the end).
- Meaningful Name: Dante.
- Mood Whiplash: The jolly guy who reads the tabloids gets extremely pissed when Randal spits his drink at him to shut up.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut:
- "In a row?"
- "slurp, slurp, slurp"
- "Try not to suck any dicks on the way out of the parking lot!"
- Mythology Gag: The first use of "37", later a recurring number throughout Smith's movies.
- "In a row?"
- Noodle Incident: Julie Dwyer's wake, at least originally.
- One-Scene Wonder: Silent Bob.
"You know, there's a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you."
- Parrot Exposition: Randal will say something odd, Dante will repeat it, Randal will elaborate.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Kevin Smith actually worked at the convenience store depicted, and had to film his movie at night when it was closed, necessitating the whole "Gum in the window shutter locks" subplot to explain why they were down the entire time.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Randal delivers a great one at the end of Clerks, aimed straight at Dante, who's spent most of the day Wangsting, as well as a little for himself as well. The full quote is on the trope's page.
- Running Gag: "What smells like shoe polish?" / "What do you care you shoe polish smelling motherfucker?"
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Sums up 85-90% of the movie.
- Silent Bob: Trope Namer.
- Silly Walk: The wrangle, better known to fans as "the Randal strut".
- The walk and Dante's line accompanying it at the end of the film was taken from Wrangler Jeans commercials and--even with all of the merchandise in the background of the store--was the only part of the film that needed to be edited to avoid legal issues. (Dante's line, referring to the walk as the "Wrangle", had to be ADRed in post). Miramax got the company's permission to leave the line uncut on the "First Cut" disc of the Clerks X DVD release.
- Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Trailer: Actually, it's the poster. Jay doesn't appear because Miramax executives thought Jason Mewes was too "weird looking".
- The explanation Smith gives in one of the Evening with Kevin Smith DVDs says that the cameraman was simply too impatient to wait for Mewes to show up, and didn't really care that Silent Bob wasn't really Silent Bob without the baseball cap.
- The Slacker: Jay and Silent Bob and Randal. Especially Randal.
- Slice of Life
- Spell My Name with an "S": Randal's name is correctly spelled with one L, not two, but many fans still add the extra letter.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: You'd be hard pressed to dance to it though.
- Super Slave Market: A convenience store sized version but nonetheless, one of the best on screen examples of the miserable retail work.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Dante and Randal feel this way about the customers. Randal likes to rip in on the occasional customers. But not Dante, he doesn't want to get into any trouble.
- Tsundere: Caitlin Bree towards Dante.
- The Unfair Sex: Veronica slaps Dante and calls him for a pig for having sex with 12 women, while she's only ever slept with 3 guys. Dante however is wrong to be angry to learn of the 36 other guys she performed oral sex on and failed to mention. Granted, Dante's reaction is overblown and he quickly crosses the line, but given that she gave a rather vivid description of what "snowballing" is, you can see why he's so furious.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: He makes a lot of questionable decisions throughout the movie and Randal's repeated Reason You Suck Speeches seem to indicate we're supposed to feel Dante is responsible in some way for basically all the bad things that happen to him.
- Also works if you consider Randal a protagonist.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Dante and Randal do this to each other at the end of the movie.
- Wisdom from the Gutter:
Jay: "Shit, my grandma always used to say, "what's better a good plate with nothing on it?" No wait, I fucked up. "What's a good plate with nothing on it?"
Clerks - The Lost Scene
The incident that happened at Julie Dwyer's wake was actually never filmed but what happened was finally revealed in an animated short on the tenth anniversary DVD set. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson reprized their roles and Joey Lauren Adams made a cameo as her character Alyssa from Chasing Amy.
This short provides examples of:
- Continuity Nod: A nice subtle one - in Chasing Amy Alyssa mentions a fling with Caitlin Bree; after Dante complains about 'Caitlin and her secrets' Alyssa (who is clearly friends with Dante), not unkindly, tells him he "just has no idea sometimes", either as a subtle hint that Dante would be better off without Caitlin or as a tacit admission of guilt because Caitlin cheated on him with her.
- Due to the Dead
- The Fun in Funeral
- Not What It Looks Like
- Thick Line Animation: It's done in the same style as Clerks the Animated Series.