Kevin Smith can be a divisive figure. For us that came of age in the 90s, his slacker comedy Clerks spoke to us. Adding to the cultural dialogue that had been going on through the lyrics of bands like Nirvana, Generation X was done doing what was expected of them. While fans have felt his later films have been hit or miss you can’t say that he hasn’t delivered something they’ve never seen before. His interesting story ideas and workshopped stories through his podcast Smodcast have birthed some of the most interesting movies in the past 15 years. Let’s take a look at his films and see how they rank.
Part two of what Smith calls his True North trilogy. His daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp play two girls who work at a convenience store (surprise) and find that something evil is lurking at their job which may keep them from attending a party they were invited to. The girls have to fight back to keep the evil at bay and make the party on time. While it is the lowest rated of Smith’s films it was special to him since he got to work on a film with his daughter.
On an episode of his podcast, Smith and Scott Mosier riffed on a classified ad that was looking for a roommate for an old man. He offered to pay room and board for anyone willing to move in with him and would dress up as a walrus for part of the day so he could relive some pleasant memories he had when he was shipwrecked and only had a walrus to keep him company. Six months later Smith was on set shooting the film. Again Smith brings in Michael Parks to give a mindbending performance as the old man who is looking for someone to become his old animal friend. The film takes dark and weird turns throughout its runtime that will leave the viewer wondering when the insanity will stop.
Smith decided to try something new for him and direct something he didn’t write. This may have been a bad decision for him as fans decided the film didn’t meet their usual standards for a Smith comedy. Part of that may be the on-set problems he had with the movie’s star Bruce Willis. The Bruce Willis issues on this film, unmet expectations with the release of Zack & Miri Make A Porno, and the backlash of his release strategy stunt with Red State at Sundance led Smith to think about leaving filmmaking altogether.
Since reboots and remakes have become the norm lately in Hollywood, why not do a reboot that in itself makes fun of the whole concept? Smith has said this was born out of the desire to play with his old toys again. Previous attempts to make Clerks III and Mallrats 2 had fallen apart due to one reason or another. One thing Smith knew he could do was put himself and Jason Mewes into a movie as their title characters again easily. Here Smith uses pop culture to send up the superhero genre while also poking fun at himself and all his films. It’s a lot of fun to reunite with these characters and see where they have gone since Clerks II.
After a few disappointing experiences on movie sets before this Smith decided to turn his attention to a horror film. Here he turns his gaze on an adrenalized version of the Westboro Baptist Church and imagines what it would be like to run afoul of a religious organization trying to get rid of their perceived evils of the world by any means necessary. This film highlights Michael Parks in the lead role of Abin Cooper. He leads this organization and preaches his gospel to everyone that will listen. Voluntarily or not. It’s an interesting departure for Smith. What he creates is a tense film that is not out of the realm of possibility.
After Chasing Amy Ben Affleck had been bugging Smith to do another intimate story that focused on relationships rather than the over-the-top ideas Smith had been working on with films like Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. In his first film outside of his View Askewniverse Smith did just that. Affleck plays the father of a young girl whose mother dies during childbirth. He is forced to quit his high-profile job and move back in with his father played expertly by George Carlin. Even Smith fans turned away from the more emotional story wishing for the return of Smith’s usual sense of humor. What those fans missed was a great story about three generations of a family trying to find their way in the world.
This film actually has roots in a failed tv series pitch Smith made way back in 1996 called Hiatus. It was to star Jason Lee as a guy who returns to his small town after leaving California. Turns out he had been working as a porn star but now wanted to open a comic book store and try to keep everyone from finding out what he had been doing while on “hiatus”. The premise was heavily reworked and bears little resemblance to what it originally was conceived as. The movie was well enough received by the usual Smith fans but failed to break him out of the indie director label as he had hoped.
After seven years of making films set in his View Askewniverse Smith decided to close the door on those characters and move onto other films that would let him tell different stories. Before he turned out the lights he wanted to make one more film with the characters of Jay & Silent Bob in the lead roles. Thus Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back was born. The film was more over the top and leaned into more cartoonish territory but that’s what made it so much fun.
While the film is looked at as Smith’s sophomore bomb from the outside, fans know that this is perhaps the one that drew them into Smith’s View Askewniverse. The opening of the film sets that this film takes place firmly in the same world as Clerks. While we’re used to this type of synergy now, at the time it was almost unheard of to see films take place in the same cinematic world that wasn’t direct sequels. While it didn’t do well at the box office he says fans often come up to him and say this was the first film of his they saw.
While Kevin Smith was an indie darling after Clerks, you could argue he didn’t really hit his stride until Chasing Amy. This film had a smaller scale than his last film Mallrats and that led to a more intimate story about the connection between two people who seem like unlikely love interests. Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee put in performances that changed their careers for the better. What resulted was Smith’s most intimate and heartbreaking story perhaps of his entire career.
Smith brings back the characters of Randal and Dante to dive into a story about getting older, taking responsibility for your life, and taking stock on what is important. The setting shifts from the world of retail to the equally life-draining world of fast food. Dante is working his last day and he plans to leave with his fiance and work for her dad’s company all the while being head over heels with his co-worker Becky. It’s a lot of fun to catch up with the characters and see where their life ended up.
The star-studded cast includes Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Salma Hayek, and Alanis Morissette. This film caused the Catholic League to stage protests which Smith himself attended. While on the outside it may look like the film is lambasting religion it actually encourages people to ignore the goofy sideshow aspect of religion and find something to hold onto for your own personal benefit.
It makes sense that the film that started it all would be sitting at the top of the rankings. This acerbic film skewered the day-to-day mundane of the register jockey. While it shouldn’t be a big surprise that the people that wait on you every day can’t stand all the annoying stuff we demand but this is the first time it has been presented as raw and unfiltered on screen. Add in some surreal shenanigans (knocking over a casket at a lunch break funeral, a chewing gum salesman causing a near-riot, and one of the clerk’s ex-girlfriend having sex with a dead guy in the bathroom) delivers a film that makes you laugh and is far too relatable all at the same time.