In anticipation of Clerks III, we’re looking back at all the live action films of Kevin Smith’ s View Askewniverse in this ranking and retrospective.
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) burst on to the scene, one director/writer/actor dared to create a series of films set in the same world. Rather than superheroes, it centered on regular people and their lives, which could be simple or a bit wacky. This is the View Askewniverse, and it began in 1994 when first time director Kevin Smith released Clerks (1994). Smith was inspired to start his filmmaking career when he saw Richard Linklater‘s Slacker (1990) on his 21st birthday.
This led him to a short stint at Vancouver Film School before Smith decided he had learned everything he needed to make a film and returned to his hometown of Leonardo, New Jersey to save money for his first feature. Back in Leonardo, Smith got his old job as a clerk at a convivence store, and as it turned out, he would be inspired to create his first film. Kevin Smith borrowed from his life and created a film set entirely in the store. He also lifted the a-day-in-the-life structure from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Putting literally everything he had into the film, Smith shot Clerks over a 21-day period and eventually screened it at the Sundance Film Festival, where it would be bought by Miramax. The rest, as they say, is history.
The View Askewniverse features 7 live action films and 1 animated film to date, along with related television shows, comic books, and even video games. With Clerks III, the 8th live action film set for release on September 13th, 2022, there isn’t a better time for me to look back on this universe, discuss its impact on me, and put together a ranking of the live action entries. This was one of the first shared film universes that I was exposed to that wasn’t Marvel and predates the MCU. Characters from one film in the View Askewniverse would appear and/or be referred to, with the most notable reoccurring characters being Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). Events/characters from other films may be hinted towards or referred to in other films, and in some cases, play a role in plot of certain films. There’s also the fact that Smith would bring in the same actors to play multiple characters within the universe, which I always found interesting because I hadn’t really seen that before.
My first official exposure to the View Askewniverse came when I was 5 or 6 years old. This has become a sort of “core memory” for me: I was randomly looking through a babysitter’s VHS collection and came across copies of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Clerks (1994). Naturally, I discarded both because I’d never heard of either film. When I reached Middle School in 2006, the shared universe would reappear in my life. At that age, not only did I love reading the newspaper, but I also loved looking at the entertainment section to see what movies were playing and the little movie poster advertisements. I wanted nothing more than to find a poster ad for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) so that I could cut it out and hang it up in my locker. What did I find instead? An advertisement for Clerks II (2006), it was perplexing, because at the time, Pirates was the number one film at the box office, why wouldn’t you advertise that, my young brain thought. I sort of resented the Clerks sequel after that, even though the next week via a different paper, I would get my Dead Man’s Chest poster ad that hung in my locker for the rest of that school year.
Fast forward to high school and I finally watched Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) after a friend referenced it. I loved it and fell down the Kevin Smith rabbit hole from there. Smith became such an important figure for me, motivating me, and making me laugh during some of the hardest times. I’m at a point now where I can’t really imagine Kevin Smith not being part of my life in some form, whether that’s through films, podcasts, whatever.
While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I have enjoyed all these films (at least on the live action side, the less said about Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie! (2013), the better). Some of them I’ve watched multiple times and liked enough to the point that I consider Kevin Smith is one of my favorite directors of all time. Others I haven’t seen in a minute because I didn’t really connect with them after that first watch. With Clerks III releasing in September, the time has come for me to look back on the View Askewniverse, figure out the impact these films had on me, and put them together in a ranking for Loud and Clear (which also doubles as sort of a retrospective).
Starring: Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
“I love the smell of commerce in the morning!” – Brodie Bruce
Mallrats is the second film set in the View Askewniverse, and chronologically takes place one day before the events of Clerks (1994). The story centers on T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) and his best friend Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee, in one of his first film appearances) who have just been dumped by their girlfriends, Brandi Svenning (Claire Forlani) and Rene Mosier (Shannen Doherty), respectively. Brandi is filling in as a contestant on her father Jared’s (Michael Rooker) dating game show. Her choice to compete to please her father, who dislikes T.S. is what led to their breakup. Meanwhile, Rene broke up with Brodie due to his lack of direction in life and his refusal to introduce her to his mother. Brodie and T.S. go to the mall to drown their sorrows, setting off a wild chain of events.
From the opening line, you can tell that Mallrats isn’t going to be a movie for everyone. If you can get past it, you’re going to be transported back to a time when malls ruled the world that you may or may not remember.
It’s hilarious that Mallrats’ premise derives from two dudes getting dumped and going to the mall. The domino effect that the duo going to the mall sets off over a single day as they try to repair their relationships is also fascinating. Going to the mall used to be an almost religious experience, where you’d go to get away from everything and drown yourself in capitalism. This is quite the fitting tribute from writer/director Kevin Smith to a particular monument in history, one that we never thought would go away. Sure, there are still malls, but the days of so-called Mallrats, who do nothing but hang out at the mall without even buying anything, are gone, and malls are nowhere near as commonplace. I’ve never had an adventure on this level at a mall, but the story is a compelling and at times ridiculous fantasy whether you were around when malls were at their peak or not. What makes it compelling is the comedy and the charm of Jason Lee as protagonist Brodie Bruce.
I never thought I’d hear a running gag that revolves around the logistics of superheroes having sex, but it’s in Mallrats. As it turns out, you can create some funny jokes and moments in a story set almost exclusively in a mall. Smith takes everything he has at the mall, and every character, and does something funny with most of them. Then you have Brodie, who is a charismatic lead, but he still must grow as a character throughout the narrative, because he’s also immature. He does grow but keeps some of that immaturity and watching his arc is interesting because you aren’t sure if he can grow up and it can get frustrating. You can see why Rene broke up with him in the first place reflected in his dialogue, actions, and in Lee’s performance. Things come to a sort of compromise with both Rene and the audience, because we can see that as big of a doofus as Brodie is, he’s trying to be better.
There’s not a lot that hasn’t aged well, outside of a few jokes (the opening lines/joke probably wouldn’t fly today), and one sequence that I didn’t find funny back in the day or now. The thing is, it’s followed up by one of the coolest moments in Mallrats and the entire View Askewniverse, so Kevin Smith instantly hooks me back in. While it may be ranked at the bottom of this list, Mallrats has a lot going for it. The plot is ridiculous and hilarious while also capturing a particular time in history perfectly. Brodie is a solid protagonist and Lee charm brings out the likeable and loath able parts of him. My opinion on Mallrats hasn’t really changed, I still find Brodie a little irritating at times, and certain jokes are best left in the past. Even though Mallrats finds itself at the bottom of my ranking: it’s a charming film, not the best or worst.
6. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK
Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Shannon Elizabeth, Will Ferrell
“Ladies, Ladies, Ladies, Jay and Silent Bob are in the hizzouse!” – Jay
As I explained, this was my first exposure to the View Askewniverse and I did like it enough back in high school to give Clerks (1994)and Clerks II (2006) a watch. That means there must be something good about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, right? The answer is yes, but we’ve also entered what I consider to be the era of Kevin Smith making films solely because he wants to see them. If you’re a fan, this isn’t a bad thing, but it makes some of his films even harder to get into if you’re a critic or a newcomer. However, as a fan, I enjoyed this more than Mallrats (1995), hence why it’s one spot higher on my ranking. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a bit like the Avengers: Endgame (2019) of the View Askewniverse: Originally, Smith had intended it to be the last chapter in the cinematic universe. It turned out to be more like the end of a saga, or phase, to borrow some Marvel Cinematic Universe terms, with the release of Clerks II in 2006.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the fifth film set in the View Askewniverse, taking place after the events of Clerks (1994), Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), and Dogma (1999). It sees Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) head off on a road-trip to Hollywood to try to stop a Bluntman and Chronic (also known as the comic created by Holden and Banky of Chasing Amy, which used Jay and Silent Bob as the basis for its superhero protagonists) movie from being made. Along the way, they become wrapped up in a diamond heist, and free an orangutan named Susanne, so things get crazy.
For me as a fan, this is delightful: you get to see characters/actors from almost every View Askewniverse film to date, even if it’s just for a minute. Not only that, but save for the fart and poop jokes, there are good comedic moments in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. One of my favorite moments is when Holden (Ben Affleck) introduces Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) to the wonders of the internet and trolls. It’s a moment that is somehow more relevant today in the age of social media. The plot is ridiculous, but it knows that, and never takes itself too seriously. There’s a fourth wall break that makes that fact clear early on. It’s quick-witted with its comedy for the most part (even if some moments can be a little crude for my taste) and breezes through its runtime. If it dragged or took an overly serious turn, it would’ve hurt what was simply a fun time.
Much like the Fast and Furious films, there are good and bad things about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. For me, the good: the characters, and most of the comedy, outweighs the bad: the fart and poop jokes, a plot that can sometimes get a little too ridiculous even for me. This is a story that only Kevin Smith could’ve told, the original ending to this world he built, the bombastic nature of the narrative pushes it above Mallrats both then and now. Some of the comedy can grind my gears, but not enough to make me stop watching. Do I think that had the orangutan not been referenced at the end of Mallrats, the subplot could’ve been cut and replaced with something simpler? Yes, but then you wouldn’t have a character like Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell) who is very funny and is a standout addition to this world. So, in that case, I suppose I must deal with a few cheap orangutan gags to keep a character that I like.
Another terrific addition to the View Askewniverse, even if she isn’t the best written female character, is Shannon Elizabeth’s Justice, who is Jay’s love interest and a diamond thief with a good heart. The trouble with her is, that’s pretty much all she is, and while Shannon Elizabeth does well with the role, I wish there was more to her character. When you consider this came out after 1997’s Chasing Amy and Dogma in 1999, where Kevin Smith created awesome female leads in Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) and Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), it makes Justice being reduced to a prize for Jay that much more frustrating. Since she’s just so likeable though, I can’t help but single her out as a highlight of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
I’m glad that this film exists, even though it’s far from Smith’s best work (just in case the number 6 ranking didn’t make that clear enough). I think growing up has made me more aware of the flaws it has, whereas when I was in high school, I considered Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to be a lot better than it is. This marks the first major change in opinion for this retrospective and ranking. This is one that I’m not all that surprised by, I’ve grown up and matured compared to my high school self. The fan in me can’t call it terrible, but there are elements that I dislike more than I used to, like Justice’s lack of character and some of the crude humor. Had the View Askewniverse ended here, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, because there is a lot that I do enjoy. Ultimately, you should grab some popcorn and go on a wacky adventure that’s basically a live action adult Saturday morning cartoon.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Alan Rickman, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it? – Metatron
I was really looking forward to watching Dogma for this retrospective and ranking, because I hadn’t seen it in quite some time, largely due to the reasons that it is only number 5 on the list.
While I can see why this satire of Catholicism and the Catholic Church courted its fair share of controversy (The Catholic League, for example, denounced it as blasphemy), it’s kind of tame. I’m not catholic, first and foremost, and I’m not exactly what one would call most religious person in the world. I do attend church from time to time, and I do believe in God, but I’m not super in your face about it. I can say that I found some of the satire funny, but I can’t see why anyone, well, anyone in their right mind would go as far to threaten the life of Kevin Smith over Dogma.
Dogma focuses on Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), an abortion clinic counselor who is called upon to save all of existence from two fallen angels named Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon), who seek to exploit a loophole and reenter Heaven.
I believe this film can encourage intelligent debate about religion, even though Smith’s trademark humor is all over it. This is because Smith has obviously put a lot of thought and time into Dogma. The film basically has the feel of being written by someone that is faithful to their religion, but at the same time, this person can reflect on it, and joke about their faith. Not only that, but they can also criticize certain parts they don’t necessarily agree with. Smith has done that with his script, and while his personal humor can diminish some of the impact (No one needed to see a monster made of human excrement, Kev), it works because it doesn’t lean too far in one direction. Dogma doesn’t play like a Catholic public service announcement, and it doesn’t throw the Catholic Church completely under the bus. To me, those that are most upset by this film are individuals that expect human beings to be 100% perfect all the time and won’t tolerate any sort of criticism of this thing they believe in. The reality is that we’re all human, and we can all discuss matters of religion like adults. Dogma to me is a representation of that fact.
The script has a good heart (and like Smith’s best work, features more of a personal feel), but the humor can be a little much and take away from the message that Smith is trying to send. I do love the characters, particularly Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino), Metatron (portrayed by the late Alan Rickman) and Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). I love that Smith had Jay and Bob play such a pivotal role in Dogma, even though the two drug dealers are on paper incredibly out of their depth. I don’t like Bethany as much as Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) from Chasing Amy (1997), but she is a multi-layered protagonist and is much more interesting than Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who have predictable arcs.
The story has never really resonated with me, and, watching it again, that hasn’t changed. However, it’s not bad by any means, the message and satire hold it up, along with the characters. The film is a solid number 5 in my ranking, but I wouldn’t blame you if you placed it higher. Dogma also features one of my favorite and most unexpected film cameos of all time, and that is Alanis Morissette as God. I can’t even really explain why I find it to be so perfect, it just is. The humor hurts that message but doesn’t ruin it, mostly thanks to Smith’s crafty and thoughtful dialogue. Dogma may not be my favorite View Askewniverse film, but it is a unique piece of filmmaking.
4. JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT
Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Aparna Brielle, Treshelle Edmond, Alice Wen, Jason Lee, and Shannon Elizabeth
“What the f*ck is a reboot?” – Jay
The latest live action film in the View Askewniverse prior to the release of Clerks III was described by Kevin Smith as a remake/reboot, and he wasn’t kidding. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is technically a sequel to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and at the same time it can play like a remake or reboot of it. This film is very meta, filled with jokes about Smith’s career, the state of Hollywood, and much more. Some Lines and moments are lifted directly from Strike Back. That may grind your gears a bit whether you’re a Kevin Smith fan like myself or not. The basic premise isn’t a new story, and yet I enjoyed Reboot more than Strike Back. There are plenty of reasons for that, starting with the meta element. Smith knows exactly what he’s doing and doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s basically doing the same movie over again. Had he tried to hide it, I would’ve been insulted. By embracing the meta nature in the same way that Kevin Smith embraced that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back had a ridiculous plot, I’m able to enjoy Jay and Silent Bob Reboot in more ways than one.
In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) lose a court case to Saban Films, producers of the upcoming reboot of the Bluntman and Chronic film from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. They are revealed to having unknowingly signed away the rights to their names, and thus can no longer call themselves “Jay and Silent Bob”. The duo decides to once again travel to Hollywood to put a stop to the reboot and reclaim their names. Along the way, they discover that Jay has a teenage daughter with Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) from Strike Back named Millennium “Milly” Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith). Jay grapples with this revelation as he and Silent Bob travel with Milly and her group of friends to “Chronic-Con” where a scene from the Bluntman and Chronic reboot is set to be filmed.
Smith has Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) of Mallrats (1995) revolt against the state of Hollywood, how it’s filled with remakes and reboots, before he and Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) throw a knowing wink to the camera. Not only is this a callback to a similar scene in Strike Back, but that’s the moment that should make you say “Alright, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Let me strap in and have some fun”. You cannot take this film too seriously unless the script brings that out of you. There are serious scenes in Reboot, some of which might make you tear up, but for the most part, this is a meta, silly, fun time with two stoners set in the good old View Askewniverse.
The serious scenes make the narrative stand out from Strike Back, and allow Jay and Silent Bob Reboot to capture some of the heart that is present in the Clerks films and in Chasing Amy. This isn’t just a new version of Jay and Silent Bob’s first solo adventure, this is a story of a father and daughter, and what fatherhood does to a person (even if that person is Jay, an immature stoner). It’s clear that Smith, after his heart attack in 2018, put a lot of thought into the fatherhood element beyond just casting his daughter Harley Quinn Smith in the film. This feels like a reflection of not only Smith’s thoughts on fatherhood, but also those of Jason Mewes, who became a father himself in the years following Clerks II (2006) to a daughter named Logan Lee. I may not be a father myself, but I know that parenthood involves a lot of growing up and taking a backseat to care for this human you brought into the world. Seeing Jay learn that lesson is something that I never expected to make me tear up, but it did. This isn’t something that happens in Strike Back or Mallrats, and having this emotional arc makes Reboot stand out even if it has just as many jokes and out there moments.
For the most part, the meta jokes land and are funny for both Kevin Smith and non-Kevin Smith fans. A few of them, like Milly’s direct repeat of a line from Strike Back don’t work as well because they seem randomly inserted to say “Hey, remember this?”. While some critics level this criticism at the movie itself: Smith’s writing is self-aware enough and doesn’t try to pass these rehashes off as something completely new. It knows that you’ve seen this before and injects enough new elements into the narrative and jokes to make it work. One element that I didn’t enjoy as much was the cameos from celebrities that weren’t previously part of the View Askewniverse. Most of these didn’t land for me because not only did I know they were coming because of Kevin Smith’s Instagram; they just weren’t all that funny.
Chris Jericho’s cameo as a KKK Grand Wizard may help move the plot forward, but there’s no real reason for Jericho to play that role and it doesn’t make me laugh. What’s crazy is that Smith is self-aware enough to have the fictional version of himself within the film crack a joke about casting his friends that felt bad he had a heart attack in Bluntman V Chronic, a reboot of the original Bluntman and Chronic film from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. That is basically what Smith did in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. So, yet again, the self-awareness kind of wins me over, even if I don’t think most of these cameos were needed. The cameos from Brodie and later Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) work better because these are characters we’ve seen in the View Askewniverse; not only that, but like in Strike Back, they add to the story rather than totally distracting from it. Seeing Jericho pulled me out of the story, even though I knew he was coming, and his character does help further the narrative, but at the same time, he and a lot of these new actors’ kind of feel shoehorned in just because.
Speaking of jokes, the fart and poop jokes are trimmed down in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which is good. There’s the classic Kevin Smith humor without going completely overboard, as Strike Back did with its whole orangutan bit. Stoner comedy may not be your thing, but some of these bits, like Jay and Silent Bob’s various uses of their homegrown strains of weed, can make you chuckle.
There are plenty of highlights to choose from, including the meta jokes, and the commentary on fatherhood, but an unexpected highlight of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was Harley Quinn Smith’s performance as Millennium “Milly” Faulken. She shows off plenty of comedic and dramatic acting talent in the role, at times acting circles around everyone else. Harley Quinn makes Milly feel like a relatable teenager in the frankly bonkers fictional View Askewniverse. Her dramatic scenes with Jason Mewes are some of the films best because Quinn Smith makes you feel her pain and want to wrap Milly into a hug. The narrative and Quinn Smith’s performance also brings out a side of Jason Mewes I hadn’t seen before. You can tell this story really stuck with him and he wanted to give some of his best work to date. Not only that, but Harley is so good that Mewes seems to want to match her in their scenes together, and he really might make you tear up. The two of them also have great chemistry, which no doubt comes from knowing each other and being like family in real life. Looking back on Reboot for this retrospective and ranking didn’t change much of my thoughts on the film. I’ve seen it multiple times since watching it in theaters, and these highlights are exactly why my mind remains largely unchanged.
With a heartfelt and self-aware narrative, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot makes itself stand out from most of the View Askewniverse. Even though certain things don’t always come together, there is plenty to make this a delightful return to this world that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again. That’s what I thought after seeing it, and that is still the case now. Reboot comes in higher than I expected in my ranking and just barely misses being among the cream of the View Askew crop.
3. CLERKS II
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
“Sometimes I get the feeling the world kinda left us behind a long time ago.” – Randal Graves
Clerks II is the most interesting film to look back on in the entire View Askewniverse and without a doubt the film I had the most difficulty ranking. When I first watched it, I considered it to be almost equal to Clerks and in the years since, my opinion has sort of gone back and forth. The heart and personal touch from the original is still there, but watching it back now, something just feels off.
It’s not that Dante and Randal (Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson) aren’t funny anymore. The same can be said of Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). All four characters have some moments to me that are hilarious and iconic (even though a few: The Racial Slur debate for one, haven’t aged well). I also think both Rosario Dawson’s Becky Scott, and her relationship with Dante, are a tremendous addition to the View Askewniverse canon. The story has heart, and moments that will get anyone, especially fans of Kevin Smith, emotional. So, why doesn’t it feel as great as Clerks to me?
Clerks II sees Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) working at the fictional Mooby’s fast food restaurant after the Quick Stop convenience store is destroyed by a fire.
I think the reason that this sequel doesn’t feel like the original to me boils down to the crudeness: Kevin Smith bit off a bit more than he could chew. Clerks is crude, but it never fully went over the line for me. There are moments in Clerks II that made me say “why exactly is this in the movie?”. Some of these moments work, like Randal’s confrontation with Lance Dowds (Jason Lee) which furthers the arc of Jeff Anderson’s character despite being gross. Others just are there to try and recapture former glory or get shock laughs. One of the best moments in Clerks is the funeral scene, where you don’t know what exactly Dante and Randal did to get kicked out. It’s funny but leaves more to the imagination of the viewer until the duo get back to the Quick Stop and talk about it. I prefer witty stuff like that over the wacky crudeness of say a Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Not that I don’t dislike that wackiness, there’s just a line where it becomes too much. Clerks II can cross that line, and yet still rope me by bringing that heart from the original film back into play. There’s so much good that it outweighs the bad, at least on this particular rewatch for me. Not to mention, with a fast runtime, you don’t even have too long to dwell on the things you don’t like. The script is well written enough and provides a solid commentary on facing the future and making peace with the choices that you’ve made in life when you’re in your mid 30’s. There’s a lot of lamenting about the present in the original Clerks film, so looking toward the future and making peace with your past is a wonderful theme to have when you return to these particular View Askewniverse characters all these years later.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t feel exactly like Clerks because that’s not what this sequel is. The characters have changed, and they’re evolving throughout this narrative. If the crudeness was dialed back, would I say this was a 5 out of 5-star film? Probably! But since it’s there, since I don’t find that stuff as funny as I used to, and since some jokes that I do like haven’t aged as well. Clerks II gets knocked down slightly. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s still number 3 on this list after all, and I do recommend you watch it even if you’ve hated everything Kevin Smith has made since Clerks. This isn’t a waste of time, and it’s yet another example of Kevin being at his best when he lifts from personal experiences.
2. CHASING AMY
Starring: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
“You’re chasing Amy.” – Silent Bob
One thing this retrospective and ranking has shown me is that Kevin Smith is at his best when he tells personal stories. Chasing Amy serves as further proof of that, and it is a fascinating look at relationships, friendships, and sexuality. Now it’s not my place to say if this film holds up now, or even if it held up in 1997, when I was a whole 2 years old. What I can tell you is that my first introduction to this film came when I was in high school and had just had my heart broken. Naturally, I wrote my feelings down and whoever I had read it looked me in the eyes and said, “This reminds me of Chasing Amy”. I had no idea what that was, but since this took place after I had seen Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and the Clerks films, my interest peaked when I was told it was a Kevin Smith film.
The third film set in the View Askewniverse, Chasing Amy (1997) tells the story of Holden McNeil, a comic book artist and one of the creators of Bluntman and Chronic comic alongside his best friend, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). When Holden meets fellow comic book artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), he quickly falls in love with her much to the dismay of Banky. However, Holden’s world is rocked by the revelation that Alyssa is in fact, a lesbian.
Upon my first viewing back in the day, I found myself relating to some parts of Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and seeing parallels between Holden’s relationship with Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) and my own. At the time, it seemed like Kevin Smith had been in my head. Obviously, that isn’t the case, but having this relatable aspect makes the story leave more of an impact on me. That relatability is still there, but things that I found dubious as a teenager are much more problematic now.
Watching Chasing Amy in the present caused me to fully understand that, as good as this story is, it has major faults. Indeed, even the number two film in my View Askewniverse ranking isn’t perfect. Smith wrote an emotional, brutally honest script, one that at times is too honest for its own good. The script’s honesty makes it clear that it was written by someone in Smith that had a singular view of queer sexuality. Holden, a heterosexual male, has this idea that he can turn the lesbian Alyssa straight, and that’s just gross. Despite that criticism, I also must give Smith some props for Alyssa Jones being one of the best examples of female sexual fluidity in popular culture. The character is a lesbian that falls in love with a man, rather than being a portrayal of a heterosexual woman that enters a same-sex relationship. It’s not something that was really portrayed at the time. Another positive of this script is it provides an authentic look at relationships, friendships, and sexuality throughout its near 2-hour runtime. There’s plenty of romance and drama between our characters and not much is sugarcoated. Even if things get too honest in Chasing Amy, the authenticity always remains, creating a solid portrayal of real life.
The comedy found in Chasing Amy is scaled back compared to other View Askewniverse films, but make no mistake, it’s still there. Here, the moments of hilarity provide relief from the romance and drama without ever overstaying their welcome.
I’m surprised that I’d forgotten just how fantastic Joey Lauren Adams is in Chasing Amy. Alyssa has a tremendous number of layers to her and is the furthest thing from a stereotype. I absolutely love the fact that Kevin Smith’s script does go out of its way to make her feel like a real person with her own problems. It would’ve been so easy to villainize Alyssa in favor of the straight white male Holden. Smith doesn’t, recognizing that these characters are two people figuring life and love out at the end of the day. Joey Lauren Adams brings her best and makes you feel for Alyssa and understand her.
I think that was the ultimate goal of Chasing Amy, to understand these characters and just how complex relationships and sexuality are. Thanks to an honest script that works despite its some faults, characters that feel real, and of course, Kevin Smith’s trademark humor, Chasing Amy works even after all these years and is simply wonderful.
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
“I’m not even supposed to be here today!” – Dante Hicks
Did you really expect anything but Clerks to take the top spot in a View Askewniverse ranking and retrospective? Yes, I’ve made probably the most predictable choice as my number one pick, but stick around and let me tell you why that is the case.
This is without a doubt the most accurate representation of what it’s like to be a clerk, which makes sense, given how much of Clerks is inspired by writer/director Kevin Smith’s life. It’s such a beautifully written film and honestly doesn’t even feel all that long. The characters of Dante Hicks and Randal Graves feel like real people and they’re so funny. Their friendship is the heart of the film and if Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson didn’t have such great chemistry with each other. Both characters are slackers, and the things they get up to while they’re supposed to be working are out there, but not as insane as Mallrats (1995). Smith perfectly captures what it’s like to be a 20-something with no sense of direction in a way that even holds up today. That doesn’t just extend to Dante and Randal, it also applies to Veronica Loughran (Marilyn Ghigliotti) and Caitlin Bree (Lisa Spoonauer) who are dealing with their own life problems.
Clerks centers on Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), two slackers in their 20s working at a convenience store. The film takes us through a day in their lives and their acquaintances.
The comedy is top notch, and Clerks is filled with so many memorable lines and moments. One of my favorites has to be the hockey game on the roof, it’s so random and a testament to the fact that even when Dante tries to goof off, work winds up getting in the way. There’s also the introduction of the legends, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) who provide any comic relief that Randal doesn’t and wind up being the connective tissue of the View Askewniverse.
The production is simple, including the fact that Clerks is shot in black and white. Kevin Smith uses everything at his disposal to make the film work, which makes sense, considering he quite literally put all his money into it. He bet on himself and made a great film with tons of authenticity. Even though the majority of Clerks takes place inside a convenience store, Smith uses several set ups to ensure the film isn’t just a bunch of folks standing around and talking. This helps keep things interesting and allows the conversations inside the store to hold more weight.
I was a bit bored by Clerks the first time I watched it, and once I got a bit older, the film began to hit harder and stick with me. Then I worked as a pool clerk, and I found myself relating to it and enjoying it even more. Eventually, things reached a point where Kevin Smith’s directorial debut became my 2nd favorite film ever made. That’s still the case in the present, Clerks is the getaway from reality that isn’t a really a getaway at all. I chill out watch it, and laugh, yet I’m still usually reflective once the end credits roll. The best part is that it’s not reflective in a bad way, but rather a positive one, I look at my past, and think about my future. The ultimate takeaway is that I am supposed to be here today, and I shouldn’t lament that I’m not further along in life. I’ll get to where I want to be, it’ll just take time.
So, what have I learned after journeying through the View Askewniverse once more? Quite a lot, which I wasn’t expecting. Part of me felt like I knew my thoughts on these films already, but watching them again, things absolutely changed. There was a real tug of war between Clerks II (2006) and Chasing Amy (1997) for that second spot when I figured Amy would run away with it. I also didn’t expect to rank Mallrats (1995) so low, and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019) was actually higher on my list than I thought it would be. There’s also the fact that I began noticing things about the View Askewniverse that I haven’t before, such as references to other films. I’d forgotten that there was a reference to the events of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) in the closing moments of Mallrats.
The references make the universe feel more alive and connected, which again is impressive considering Kevin Smith began the View Askewniverse before the MCU was even thought of. I was also impressed that I still consider these films to be good, because after all, sometimes you can grow out of things without even meaning to do so. Sure, they have flaws and aspects that I don’t like as much as I used to, but I’m still a Kevin Smith fan and find this world that he created fascinating.
Obviously, the two films that had the biggest impact on me were Chasing Amy (1997) and Clerks (1994). I can’t really imagine a world without these two, Clerks especially. Whenever I get down on myself, that’s my go-to film for a good laugh and the chance to really reflect on my life and whatever had me upset. Usually, it makes me realize that in the grand scheme of things, the issue wasn’t a big deal, or at the very least, the film eases my stress just the smallest bit.
I’m thankful to Kevin Smith for a multitude of things, including the View Askewniverse. He helped pave the way for me to be my true authentic self, a lover of films, comic books, and much more. There’s a particular message from his stand up special Silent But Deadly, which was recorded the night of his heart attack. Basically, he said that no one will know how talented you are unless you go out and express yourself. This isn’t me blowing my own horn or anything, this is legitimately a sentence that has stuck in the back of my mind and helped me overcome the fear I had about doing something like being a critic. I believe I am talented, but I always have struggled with anxiety. Believe it or not, hearing the Clerks guy on stage, this man that I deeply admire, saying that mere minutes before a battle for his life, has been the kick in the tail that I needed more times than I can count. Words aren’t enough, because right now I’m doing things that I dreamt about doing as a little kid and it all started at least partly, with that Clerks VHS tape.
Clerks III will be released in US theaters on September 13 and 15, and in UK cinemas on September 16, 2022. Read our review of 2021 Kevin Smith documentary Clerk.