Twenty years later, ‘Clerks’ the definitive workplace comedy

Twenty years later, Clerks the definitive workplace comedy

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

Who ever said that the ultimate workplace movie had to be set in an office?

For many millennial college graduates, their first job out of school might be behind a counter — not suffocating in a cubicle. Even though it might seem like we’re all headed toward a sea of TPS reports, migrating desks and finicky, stapler-obsessed coworkers, sometimes there’s a steppingstone or two before that inevitable nightmare can be realized.

And that’s why “Clerks” is the ideal workplace comedy for those of us who would rather crawl than waltz into the real world.

Kevin Smith’s debut, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next week, almost perfectly captures this mind-set through a day in the life of a convenience store clerk, Dante (Brian O’Halloran), and his best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), who works at the video store next door. They both favor the dead-end life over anything that resembles commitment, even though the mundanity of their jobs grows tiresome.

The film begins when Dante finds out that he has to cover a few hours for a sick coworker at Quick Stop. A few hours turn into the whole day when Dante eventually finds out that his boss went to Vermont, leaving Dante with the store to himself. For a while, he bemoans dealing with moronic customers and the petty tasks of his job, but Dante and Randal kill the time by discussing the end of “Return of the Jedi,” temporarily closing the store for a roof hockey game and experiencing half-hearted catharsis after attending the wake of one of Dante’s ex-girlfriends — only to scurry out after Randal accidentally knocks over her casket.

From a narrative standpoint, “Clerks” seems to be primarily concerned with Dante’s romantic woes. He’s stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), but longs for his ex-girlfriend, Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer), who’s back in town with her new fiance. Despite her relationship status, Caitlin gives Dante reason to believe that her marriage won’t happen and that things could work out for them — until one of the most darkly hilarious scenes in memory.

But, at its core, “Clerks” isn’t about romance — it’s about the immortal friendship between Dante and Randal and their indifference toward — rather than dissatisfaction with — their career rut. Tempting as it may be to throw around lazy genre tags like “buddy comedy” or “slacker comedy,” these labels are more misleading than convenient when dealing with a movie like “Clerks.”

Though Dante and Randal certainly live by the “Lazy But Talented” mantra — which can be commonly found on a series of recent Nike athletic T-shirts — they’re smart, articulate guys, especially when it comes to discussing touchstones of geekdom. But, they don’t have any initiative to bring that knowledge outside of the convenience store. As the sequel confirms, their notions of upward mobility and motivation consist of taking a job at the local fast-food joint.

Even though Dante experiences pressure to take college classes and not remain a lifetime clerk, he values the strength of his relationships more than his professional career. Many of us wouldn’t dream of working at a convenience store right after college. But then again, you probably couldn’t play a daytime hockey game with your best friend in an office, either.

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