Kevin Smith’s best films have always been his smallest and most personal works; as a filmmaker, his legacy is a fascinating one, as his attempts at more mainstream Hollywood flicks have never been as creatively successful as the films he increasingly makes specifically for his loyal fanbase.
This comes out specifically in the Clerks series, which Smith seems to use as a way of processing big turning points in his life: The original Clerks, of course, was all about the malaise of being in your 20s and not being sure about what to do with your life (its success solving that latter problem for Smith, at least initially).
Clerks II, arriving during the middle portion of Smith’s career, focuses a lot on what it means to settle down, get married, start a family, and embrace what you love doing, even if it doesn’t match with the ambitions of others. And Clerks III would probably be a very different film if Smith hadn’t had a heart attack in 2018, coming face-to-face with his own mortality in a way that plays a major role in the return of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson).
After decades of clerking, Dante and Randall are now nearing 50 and still working at the Quick Stop — which at least they now own. But when Randall has an actual heart attack — a sequence which benefits greatly from Smith’s lived experience, simultaneously raw, grounded, and funny, anchored by a wonderful appearance by Amy Sedaris — he decides that he needs to do something substantial with his life, and thus embarks upon making an independent movie about what it’s like to be a convenience store clerk, “based on” his real life.
For Smith fans, details about the original Clerks, from the original budget ($27,000) to the original title (Inconvenience) to the original ending (Dante gets shot by an armed robber), are just part of the filmmaker’s mythology, and get acknowledged accordingly as Randall pursues his new dream.
But in contrast to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which is basically just nonstop Kevin Smith in-jokes for 105 minutes, Clerks III ends up being a much more somber affair. Beyond an audition sequence featuring plenty of Smith’s friends (including newcomers to the View Askewniverse like Smith’s Masters of the Universe stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Wood), the meta aspects of the story actually serve a greater emphasis on mortality — what it means to lose people, what it means to face your own death, and how that makes you consider what you’ll end up leaving behind.