When Kevin Smith announced that his next film would be The Passion of the Clerks, online haters immediately began calling him a sellout, a chicken making an act of desperation. Even with the trailer released, some of Cinema Blend’s own correspondents couldn’t get over the very idea that Smith would sequelize his very first original idea.
“There are haters that just hate for the sake of hating, sir,” Smith said. “There’s no two ways about it. I remember when we announced Clerks II and there were people that were like, ‘Oh yay, we get to see more Dante and Randall’ and then there were people that were like, ‘This dude’s chickened out. He’s lost his nerve. He’s not going to make Green Hornet. He’s just going back to the well.’ It never really bothered me because I was just like I know what the script is. I’ve written the script so I know it’s not chickening out and I know what the movie’s about. So I couldn’t buy into the trepidation, or not even trepidation, the out and out hostility toward the idea.”
The further adventures of Dante and Randall behind the counter include all new, updated pop culture references including Lord of the Rings, The Transformers and the Star Wars prequels, and vulgar topics like oral/anal sex play and inter-species erotica. But the heart of Clerks II are feelings Smith currently faces.
“I wanted to tell a story about what it felt like to be in my thirties and I tried to do that with Jersey Girl and to some extent succeeded, but at the same time I look at that movie and I'm like, 'It's kind of a manipulative movie.' It tends to be a little mawkish in places and whatnot, and I love that movie to death, but at the same time it is sort of a conventional mainstream affair. So I wanted to tell that story about what it felt like to be in my thirties and do it down and dirty and do it kind of closer to the edge of reality which is weird because there's a donkey show in the story. So I was just like wanting to really put that up there onscreen and so I was thinking about new characters and new situations and how I was going to get that thought across and then I was like, 'Well, wait a second. Clerks was a story about what I thought it was like to be in my twenties. I can use Dante and Randall again as my proxy, as my stand-ins, as a way into that story.' Suddenly it all just kind of clicked.”
Still, Smith does not expect the haters to give these issues fair consideration. “It’s not like you’ll ever convert those people. It’s not like they’ll see the movie for what it is. They’ll always see it for what it’s not and what it’s not is the first Clerks. I’ll never have a first Clerks again. That’s it. That was where it was a zero expectation whatsoever because we came out of nowhere. And even though I’m coming off of Jersey Girl which lowers expectations, which is always good for me just like coming off of Mallrats with lowered expectations, we gave ‘em Chasing Amy, there are still people that will just be like, ‘Nah, he sucks.’ I mean, there are people who maintain that even Clerks sucked and everything I’ve done since has sucked worse.”
Even actor Jeff Anderson was a mild hater in the beginning, worrying that his filmmaking friend was taking a step back. After reading the script with its new jokes and heartwarming message, he committed.
“He was just like, 'Look, I'm in, but I'll ask you one last time. Are you sure that you want to do this for yourself because you seem to be on a career path? You can do Green Hornet. Why do you want to do this?' I said, 'Well, you read the script. That's what it's all about. It's about figuring out how much you can remain the person you've always been and actually grow at the same time. It's kind of me working issues out.' He was like, 'Can't you just hire a therapist and deal with this sh*t, and then work on movies really separately?' I said, 'The two are intertwined as far as I'm concerned.'”
Since Dante and Randall have become the vehicles for Smith’s feelings at various stages of his life, it is only fitting that he has transferred his identification from one to the other. “In the first one was more Dante wishing that I was Randall and this time around I'm definitely more Randal than Dante which is odd because Dante is the one kind of going through 'I'm having a baby and I'm getting married' type thing. But I'm definitely more in the Randal headspace in terms of like I don't want things to change. I'm a guy and so naturally change comes very hard to me and it's a weird struggle all the time where it's like how much can you remain the person that you were and still grow at the same time. I look at this movie and I definitely identify with Randal so much.”
If some of Clerks II’s topics feel like attempts at recreating favorite moments from the original, it is entirely coincidental. The discussion of ass to mouth comes early in the film, and repeats itself the way 37 did, but they are not related.
“I don’t sit there and go, ‘What do I do that can outdo what I did before?’ I just go, ‘What makes me laugh?’ The ass to mouth thing just made me laugh because when I saw my first ass to mouth website, I was like ‘Wow, how horrible. Have we really run out of sexual aberrations to the point where this is a viable option?’ So I wanted to throw that in the flick.”
The climactic donkey show may seem like an attempt to outdo the dead guy in the bathroom, but it is actually a completely different referential insight.
“I’ve always just kind of thought the idea of a donkey show was funny, especially because here’s Randall trying to figure out what to give his friend as a going away party/bachelor party, so like most of us, most of our accumulated wisdom comes from watching movies. Randall’s just like, ‘Oh, Bachelor Party. I’ll do a donkey show.’ But we got to do our spin on the typical donkey show.”
If that doesn’t sound hilarious to you, that’s okay. Kevin Smith has never had to win over huge mass audiences.
“I've been really lucky in as much as like we built ourselves a little audience. It's not a big audience, but it's enough of an audience where it's kind of easy to get the stuff we do financed. Make no bones about it, this is a business. We can sit here and talk art and storytelling all we want, but it's a fucking business. When someone else is paying for it it's definitely a business and no one gives you money unless they're assured some kind of a return on their investment. Historically we've done that. Our movies have never grossed more than $30 million theatrically, but our DVD is very strong. So even though you can't build a studio system on the movies that we've made, someone is making a profit and that's why they keep giving us money to make flicks. So for that reason I'm beholden to the audience. I love my audience almost more than I fucking love myself which isn't that difficult, but because of them I got the job and that's why I continue to work”
That also makes it very easy to respond definitively to the haters. “I read what people online say and the very vocal minority are like, 'You suck. You're a hack. You eat cock.' And they spell cock wrong. 'Why do they keep giving them money?' and shit like that. I'm just like it's that simple. It's not because I'm that fucking talented or because I have a rich uncle in the business. It's because the movies that we've done have made money point blank. That's why anyone gets financed. So for me, any time that I go in there, and you go in there with something like Clerks II, and you go, 'I want to make a Clerks sequel for $5 million.' They're like, 'Fucking sold!' because they know that they're going to earn off of it. It doesn't matter. If no one shows up theatrically they'll clean up on DVD. So it would be one thing if I went in there and I was like, 'I'm making Clerks II and I need $50 million.' They would shut me down in a heartbeat, but we always kind of go in there with responsible budgets. We don't ask for a lot because I know. I understand that when you're making movies with ass to mouth jokes, you realize that like there is a ceiling to what you're going to do. It's not like Pirates of the Caribbean where you can expect to open over a hundred million. You realize that it's a pretty small and rarified audience that wants to sit there and watch a donkey show.”
Clerks II opens July 21.