Monday, November 8, 2010

Sophomore Slump: "Mallrats"

With the exception of Weezer's "Pinkerton", I can't think of a more beloved candidate for a sophomore slump than Mallrats, Kevin Smith's flop follow-up to his low-budget debut "Clerks". But while River's album was taken to task by critics for its overwhelming melodrama and heart-on-its-sleeve aesthetic, Smith's film failed to connect with critics because, honestly, he was given almost $6 million and delivered a film that was even more amateurish than his $30,000 debut. But that didn't stop a small handful of fans (myself included) from falling in love with this movie. Hell ,it still holds the record for a film of Smtih's that I've seen the most times in the theater. (That would be 3 times)

Then again, that may have more to do with the films release than anything else. See, depsite a really thin theatrical release, it was put out by Gramercy, a then-division of Universal, which gave it a wider release than Clerks and Smith's third and best film Chasing Amy. Mallrats played for two weeks at a local mall cinema not too far from my house. In that time span I dragged people to see it thrice, and each time I discovered a new fan of Smith's charming, but altogether grungy little comedy. In fact, if it hadn't been for the press and Smith's own bemoaning of the film's lack of success, my friends and I would have assumed that everybody loved it.

I was one of the few people I knew who saw Clerks in its original theatrical run. I only saw it once but once was enough to make me a fan. So when I heard about Mallrats I was onboard, even though I knew very little about the movie. All I really knew was that Shannen Doherty was in it. This was fine by me because I watched the first three seasons of 90210 and had a little crush on Doherty. When I finally got around to seeing it though I was less interested in Doherty and more interested in two key things left out of the pre-release discussion. One was that one of my favorite skaters, Jason Lee, was making his film debut. The other was that Stan "The Man" Lee was in the movie. Oddly enough these two things wound up being two of the the film's biggest saving graces to many, myself included.

It would take forever to count the myriad of things that hurt the film. The biggest drawback to the movie is the absolutely dreadful performance by Jeremy London as TS. Thank God Jason Lee was brought on as Brody because London needed someone who was gonna make him look good. But that's really a surface argument. Again, what people always come back to is that the film winds up looking downright cheap compared to Clerks. That film's black and white covered up a lot of the immediate blemishes and added a low-budget charm to the proceedings. Here in full color land, it was obvious Smith didn't have a visual filmmaker's eye. Everybody knows that now, but at the time we were all a little shocked. We thought a bigger budget equaled a better looking film.

What saved the film is the work of the two Lee's and a deliriously goofy and anarchic sense of humor, mixed in with what would become Smith's trademark banter. Jay and Silent Bob were elevated to the level of slapstick foils for all involved, stink palms were handed out, fat unfortunates couldn't find a sailboat in one of those obnoxious hidden image paintings, high school girls were banging everything that moved and writing tell all books about it; these things and more were just piled on top of one another, leading to a comedy that was as much about gimmicks as it was two guys talkign shit in a mall. Much like Clerks it's a film about pop culture, ideas about pop culture, talking about pop culture, etc. Two of the film's most memorable dialogue sequences were about comics.

Another way that it is like Clerks and many of Smith's other films ( as well as the films of Judd Apatow) is that it's really about two guys who don't know how to deal with love, life, etc. At the time this shit seemed eye-opening. Nobody was making romantic comedies for guys, but that is just what Smith was doing. Apatow's films, movies like There's Something About Mary, et al, all owe a great debt to Smith. He made it cool for guys to talk about love as much as they wanted to talk about Spider Man and Wookies and video games.

This shit could go on forever. In fact I don't even know if I made a real point or not. I think my defense of Smith's films, like my defense of many other things I enjoy, got bogged down in my sheer appreciation for the minutiae of its weird little world. That's what keeps fans of the flick coming back.


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