Friday, December 21, 2007

Kevin Smith’s Universe

In 1993, Kevin Smith dropped out of film school and amassed a budget of just under $28,000 to film Clerks, a movie that was picked up by Miramax and won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. Clerks has since earned upwards of $3 million and Smith has gone on to write and direct six more feature length films, including the sequel Clerks 2.

Smith appears in most of his movies as Silent Bob, a character that speaks very little dialogue, often getting just a single line at or near the end of the movie. In Clerks, he tells the main character that he needs to stop looking for a better girlfriend, because the one he has is pretty great, she’s just not perfect. In Chasing Amy, Smith’s third film, Bob actually gets an entire monologue in which he tells the main character that he was wrong to reject his girlfriend to whom he felt sexually inferior because she had so much more experience than he did. This is a recurring theme in Smith’s movies, and he claims this is a recurring theme in his personal life.

He is married to Jennifer Schwalbach-Smith, whom he met in 1997 when she was interviewing him for a column in USA Today. Most of the time when he mentions her, he points out how lucky he is to have a hot wife, since he feels he is mediocre looking and overweight. While I’m sure he thinks he is being complimentary and grateful, I think it shows how he still isn’t over the issues he had in his teens and twenties feeling inferior to women. In fact, he has said that Chasing Amy’s plot was taken from his real life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams, his then girlfriend and movie’s female lead. He was jealous that she had traveled to Bali and wondered how she could find him interesting after having had an experience like that. Despite his tremendous success in Hollywood, he still wonders, or claims to wonder how his wife puts up with him.

There are other themes in Smith’s work that reflect his personal life. Religion took center stage in his fourth film, Dogma. In it, two angels that God previously banished from Heaven find a loophole that will allow them to return to Heaven. The movie examines what would happen if they were successful, since that would prove God wrong, and how a cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and Earth all conspire to either help or hinder the pair. Smith was raised Catholic and still professes to belong to the Church. Many of his views diverge from the Church’s teachings though, and he explores that in Dogma. The main thing I took from the movie was that personal faith and the established religions of today don’t always mesh well, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be a part of your life.

Smith’s sixth movie is titled Jersey Girl, as an homage to both his home state of New Jersey and his daughter Harley Quinn Smith. This movie is a change from his previous films in that Silent Bob is not in it and it examines a father’s relationship with his daughter after her mother dies in childbirth. Ben Affleck plays the male lead, and the child’s mother is portrayed by Jennifer Lopez. Backlash against the overexposure of Affleck and Lopez’s relationship caused Smith to significantly reduce Lopez’ screen time in the movie. Affleck’s character struggles with balancing his fatherly duties with his career and eventually meets a new woman played by Liv Tyler.

The fifth and seventh movies that Smith has both written and directed are Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2. Both movies are basically extended references to the plots, settings and characters of his other films. Jay and Silent Bob tells the story of two slackers who find out someone is going to make a movie out of their lives and isn’t planning on sharing any of the money with them. They embark on a road trip to Hollywood to stop the movie from being made at all. Clerks 2 shows us Dante and Randall, the two main characters from the original movie, about 15 years later. They are still working dead-end jobs in town where they grew up. One of them is about to marry a woman from high school and move to Florida to live in a house her parents will buy them and work for her father. He has unresolved romantic feelings for his boss and is unsure he wants to leave the life he has, despite its shortcomings.

Both of these films examine the potential we all have to sabotage some of the good things we have going for us, and how it can be very difficult to know if something is actually good for us or is just holding us back. Smith even manages to make Randall both a positive and negative force in Dante’s life.

Personally, I am such a fan of Smith’s work because of how funny he manages to be while still examining serious issues. He has said that he thinks dialogue is his strong point, and I agree that most of his dialogue seems authentic. But I would say his willingness to put his own issues on the table and speak about them is what makes people appreciate his films for more than their crude humor or big-name actors. He tells a personal story with each of them, and while the plot points are resolved, he always leaves the door open for a new chapter in the characters’ lives.

No comments: