If you excavated Kevin Smith’s groundbreaking 1994 debut Clerks for individual quotes just to prove its genius, you would probably convince a lot of people who haven’t seen the film that it’s a cinematic masterpiece. So often is the script filled with some truly golden moments, but alas Clerks might be a case study for why they say, “We don’t watch scripts, we watch movies.”
The film opens with a phone ringing in a pigsty of a room, followed by a closet door opening, spilling out our protagonist Dante (Brian O’Halloran). Being awoken from sleep, he answers the phone, which is buried inside his laundry basket. It’s his boss asking him to come into work on his day off. Dante works at a small convenience store, where next door his best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson) works at a video store. Randal spends most of his time hanging out with Dante in the market, with his own store ostensibly closed.
Throughout the day, they complain about customers, pester customers, offend customers, chase customers out, all amidst the backdrop of Dante’s love life. His current girlfriend, he just found out, has been with quite a few men in her past. Meanwhile, he reads in the newspaper that his serially unfaithful ex-girlfriend of 5 years is engaged to be married. He didn’t even know she was seeing anyone. Now with himself in the middle of a sort of crisis, he wrestles with his own role in his situation.
According to Randal, he complains all the time about his life, but never does anything about it. Dante is quick to blame everyone else for his sucky day—and life (“I’m not even supposed to be here!”). He’s never inherently wrong, although that’s kind of the point.
Writer/director Kevin Smith does a great job making the audience side with Dante in his resentment of those around him. Randal neglectfully sells a pack of cigarettes to a 4-year-old, thus getting Dante stuck with a $500 fine. Dante’s boss never shows up to work at noon like he promised—in fact, Dante finds out that he left town entirely, thus making our protagonist miss his hockey game at 2 p.m. Everything seems to be setting up Dante to fail, and we, like him, are blaming everyone else in this movie. However, it’s Randal, in his final plea to Dante and the audience, who explains how that’s not really what’s happening.