Films like “Clerks” and “Mallrats” made him an avatar of indie filmmaking and his early adoption of the internet made him the Methuselah of geek culture. So, it is surprising that “Clerk,” a look at Smith’s legacy now on VOD, doesn’t have any of the rebel spirit that make his story, from “Clerks” to “Tusk” to his popular podcast SModcast, so compelling.
Near the beginning of its chronological look at Smith, director Malcolm Ingram shows a video the young filmmaker made as he prepared to leave home to attend the Vancouver Film School. A thank you to his parents for instilling in him a passion for movies, it’s lovely found footage that displays Smith’s heart and his devotion of his chosen industry.
If the rest of the movie struck the same tone as this footage, “Clerk” might have the depth to make it feel like something beyond an entertaining, but shallow, DVD extra.
Smith is an intriguing character. From DIY filmmaker (“Clerks”) to studio outsider (“Cop Out”) to self-distributor of his movies to podcast superstar and Geek God, he has forged an unlikely but prolific career.
Through interviews with friends—like Ben Affleck, Richard Linklater and BFF Jason Mewes—fans and family—his mother Grace, wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith and daughter Harley Quinn all appear—a portrait emerges of a man who created a world for himself.
We’re told about his drive to create, how he has rolled with the punches and health scares, and also rolled thousands of joints, to become a cultural touchstone who has turned his love of pop culture, into a career. “I didn’t want to be a footnote,” he says.
The most revealing part of the film comes midway. Smith calls a scene in “Clerks II” the moment where he learned who he was “through the art.” The characters, Quick Stop (the convenience store the action revolves aorund) store manager Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and slacker Randall (Jeff Anderson), are in jail.
Dante says, “What would the great Randall Graves do if he was the master of his own destiny?” The answer? “I’d buy the Quick Stop and reopen it myself.”
In that moment, Smith says, this character, once defined by his cynicism and disappointment with the world, is laid bare. That scene tells “the story of my life,” the director says. “The day I realized you could just buy the Quick Stop and reopen it yourself. That’s how you’d be happiest. That was me going, ‘I’m never going to be what other cats would like me to be. The only reason you like me in the first place is because I was me. So, I’m going to go and be me for the rest of my life now.’”
It is a teary moment—Smith wells up several times during the almost two hour run time—that sums up an epiphany for Smith that appears to have influenced much of his career moving forward from that moment.
Self-acceptance is a great message—”I want to be the Smithiest Kevin Smith I can be.”—and it is one of the things that has made Smith so popular with his rabid fans. But by the end of the “Clerk” it’s clear that, despite that life lesson, the documentary is more fan service than deep dive. Smith devotees—that is, anyone who knows what “Snoochie Boochies” refers to—will enjoy revisiting the movies that made the charismatic director famous, but holes—Mewes’ drug addiction for instance—in the storytelling and hagiographic interviews prevent it from being a definitive portrait.