Kevin Smith called “Clerks 2” his best movie yet. But the writer/director’s first direct sequel faced public resistance before he even put pen to paper.
The Chicago Tribune called his last film, “Jersey Girl,” a “big, gooey . misfire,” and most of the country agreed.
Smith did not take the criticism well. “When somebody pans the movie in a big, bad way, it’s a rejection of your ideas and who you are,” he said.
But he also realized there might be a bright side to the poor reviews. “I felt like, wow, there’s no expectation, or very limited expectation,” he said. “Stupidly, I chose ‘Clerks 2,’ which comes with built-in expectation.”
“Clerks” was Smith’s first film, a low-budget, black and white flick about a couple of guys who hate their jobs at a convenience store. People loved it.
“You go into a movie not trying to create a cult classic or a seminal indie film,” Smith said. “I just wanted to make a movie where two guys were sitting around talking for 90 minutes.”
“Jersey Girl” marked the first time Smith left the so-called View Askew universe, which besides “Clerks,” included such hits as “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma.” In fact, Smith had named 2001’s “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” the last film he’d ever do in that world.
So when Smith announced “Clerks 2,” the sixth film to, in some capacity, include the characters Jay and Silent Bob, many accused him of retrenching and retreating to what was comfortable.
Smith said even “Clerks” star Jeff Anderson was concerned the sequel would be a rehash, and worse, something that might lead people to retroactively hate on the original.
But Smith said he didn’t take the attacks personally, because he knew what “Clerks 2” was really about. He had created the characters 12 years ago to express what it was like to be in his 20s. Now he wanted to make a movie about being in his 30s. “I immediately thought of ‘Clerks.’”
Now “Clerks 2” is his favorite movie. Smith previously reserved that praise for “Chasing Amy,” but he said he no longer identifies with it. “When I made that movie, I was definitely that guy who was kind of hung up on girlfriends’ pasts, and making that movie was either very cheap or expensive therapy,” he said. “At the end I was like, now I want to date chicks with horrendous pasts. The fact they wind up with you says something. Like in a world of experience, they choose your dopey ass.”
Smith said it took a few days of shooting for Jeff Anderson to come around. “He was the conscience wearing the red devil suit,” Smith said. But after viewing scenes the director cut together during the shoot, Anderson became a strong supporter. Smith said he believes doubtful fans will react similarly. “Jeff represents everyone out there who’s on the fence about the movie.”
But even if “Clerks 2” isn’t a retrenchment, Smith said it’s not a crime to play to one’s audience. “Steven Spielberg plays to Steven Spielberg’s audience. Steven Spielberg’s audience just happens to be the whole f***ing world,” he said. “Mine is not the whole world. It’s just a few cats who already saw whatever Spielberg currently has in the theatres.”
But those “few cats” are what keep Smith going. “I love the fan base more than I love my own child,” he said. “And I love my kid, but without those people, I wouldn’t have a job. A lot of them have been around since the beginning and have grown older with us.”
Smith got on the Internet in 1995 and regularly communicates with fans through his Web site, NewsAskew.com, and blog, SilentBobSpeaks.com. He said he enjoys reading peoples’ thoughts on his movies, good and bad. “As long as they can spell ‘dickhead’ or ‘hack’ right, I can kind of jive with it.”
Though “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was originally Smith’s last View Askew film, he said “Clerks 2” feels like a more logical conclusion.
“The next one won’t be set in it,” he said. “I think Jay and Silent Bob scrape by the skin of their teeth this time around without people going like, ‘They look old.’”