I am way too fond of Kevin Smith for my own good. I just think he’s an absolutely tremendous director, and his films are just so endlessly entertaining. Clerks is the very pinnacle of independent comedy that I love, and every film he did since that has been varying shades of brilliance. Clerks was risky for the young and inexperienced Smith – but I’d argue that his most risky film was Mallrats, his follow-up to his breakthrough hit – and unfortunately it was a divisive film that didn’t do very well as many people didn’t like it very much. However, I liked it quite a bit, and while it might not meet the highs that Clerks did, it is certainly a great film.
In his 1997 film, Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith brought out an absolutely brilliant performance from Jason Lee, who was just sublime in the romantic comedy-drama as the comic relief. It was the first time I was actually in awe of Jason Lee, because while he did do fantastic work on My Name is Earl, he was never the strongest actor. In Mallrats, which preceded Chasing Amy, Lee (in his feature film debut – he was previously a professional skateboarder) is given the leading role of Brodie Bruce, the ultimate Kevin Smith protagonist – a comic book-loving, philosophical slacker that tosses off intense debate as much as he does crass comments. It is a character that Smith carries through in all of his films. In Mallrats, Brodie and his friend T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) are both dumped by their respective girlfriends, and they decide to take refuge in the one place that brings Generation X comfort – the mall, or as Brodie calls it “a monument to consumerism” – and being someone that spends most days in the mall (not by choice, but by necessity to survive), I get a kick out of seeing a film dedicated to the strange and diverse mall culture that is rapidly spreading across the world.
This, being a Kevin Smith View Askewniverse film, is driven not by a coherent plot, but by a series of mishaps and adventures featuring our two protagonists and a range of colorful supporting characters. That is precisely the reason why I love Smith’s films – they don’t aim to be anything other than zany and fun, and he does a great job at making this film as entertaining and enjoyable as possible. There is a centralized story, and while it is resolved at the end, it isn’t that core storyline that keeps us watching and allows us to be entertained – it is the myriad of side sub-plots that make this film succeed (and many will say that it is a strange and very messy film, but that is exactly why I loved it – it doesn’t attempt to be a normal film). If the centralized story was abandoned halfway, it actually would’ve been so much better (I will get to the flaws of this film in a little while, for which there are many).
Performances are exactly what make Kevin Smith films so much fun – in all of his films that I have seen (yes, even Jersey Girl – an underrated and unfairly reviled film), Smith brings out the best in his actors. We can argue that in recent years, Smith has cast the likes of Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis and Seth Rogen in his films, but at the time of Clerks and Mallrats, he cast actors that have gone on to have varying degrees of fame, but at that time were relative unknowns and new to the industry – while it is great to watch actors we know and adore in films, it is also a great experience to watch performances from unknown actors. While Jason Lee, Ben Affleck and others have gone on to do great work since then, it is important to remember that they were new to this, and anyone who complains that they weren’t good enough clearly can’t fathom the fact that not everyone is brilliant in their earliest performances. However, I digress – I have always mentioned Jason Lee, who is the standout of the film by far. Ben Affleck is an actor who is able to play deeply likable and endearing characters (just look at Chasing Amy for example), but also is adept at playing complete scumbags. In Mallrats, he gives the latter a try, and his Shannon Hamilton is terrifyingly nasty and a great villain. The rest of the great performances are too small and insignificant to actually concentrate on, by Joey Lauren Adams, Shannen Doherty and of course the killer cameo from Stan Lee are all wonderful.
However, what would a View Askewniverse film be without Jay and Silent Bob? They are truly one of the great comedic duos, and Jason Mewes steals every scene he is in, and Smith once again uses the power of physical humor to create a compelling character in Silent Bob. The continuity between Smith’s films is truly unique, and even Smith’s most hardened critics can’t deny the brilliance that lays in Smith’s use of continuity to create a very compelling universe. It has been a decade since we last saw Jay and Silent Bob – let’s hope that Smith gets cracking on either Clerks III or MallBrats so they can come back and bring us some of their timelessly weird comedy.
Mallrats isn’t a beloved film – it is a pretty divisive one. I can’t understand why there is such a swell of hatred for it though – but I do understand that it has many flaws that it doesn’t try to fix. The first is the main plot – it is understandable that Smith wanted to make a romantic film, but the fact is that while the story is compelling, the two characters involved in the romantic side of the film are both pretty bad actors. Jeremy London tries his best, but he just comes off as being deeply sulky for the entire film, and we aren’t compelled to root for him to succeed – quite the contrary – his character is so unlikable, I often found myself wishing he would just continue to fail. However, compared to his love interest, London was positively excellent – Claire Forlani is just terrible. She is a British actress playing an American character – but her American accent was probably the worst I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t seem like Forlani put any effort into doing a proper American accent, and what results is some ungodly child of Cary Grant and Sideshow Bob, by way of Scandanavia. Truly terrible work, and if Forlani comes back, perhaps she has had time to develop her accent to sound even vaguely authentic – or maybe she is just not going to show up (and if you don’t get on it Kevin, all your actors are going to die before you make MallBrats). Either way, it was my major pet peeve for this film. But their poor performances are ignored by the rest of the fantastic cast in this film.
Mallrats may not be Kevin Smith’s best film, but it is certainly a fun film that is highly entertaining and deeply moving. Jason Lee and the supporting cast is tremendous, and the film itself is just a paradise for pop culture irrelevance. Kevin Smith honestly needs to make another film like this, because this is truly what he does best.