Fans of Kevin Smith are a diehard bunch, and the documentary “Clerk” celebrates the life and career of the filmmaker, podcaster, comic book writer, and pop culture icon. Devotees of the View Askewniverse should mark this as a must-see, but newbies would find it helpful to be at least a little familiar with Smith’s resume before diving in.
The film, directed by Smith’s longtime friend Malcolm Ingram, takes a look at the life trajectory of a kid from New Jersey who had a dream and made it come true. The timeline focuses on the moviemaking aspects of each film in Smith’s wheelhouse, starting with the micro-budget phenomenon “Clerks” all the way up to his latest project, “Jay and Silent Bob: Reboot.” Every cult classic and box office bomb are discussed by Smith himself, with help from producers, friends, and cast members. Along the way, Ingram touches on other milestones in Smith’s personal life (like the heart attack in early 2018 that almost killed him).
The storytelling here is very choppy, and the film tackles too much for a feature documentary (it may have been better suited as a mini-series). Ingram strives to give a comprehensive look at Smith’s life and career, but the man has just done so much that even a movie with a 112 minute runtime can’t begin to cover it all. The documentary doesn’t shy away from some of the more hot-button issues either, and while there is a section that briefly discusses the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the notorious conflict between Smith and Bruce Willis is brushed off with a one-liner.
A few vintage photographs and video clips are inserted between traditional talking head interviews with his wife Jennifer Schwalbach and daughter Harley Quinn Smith, and ride-or-die collaborators like Scott Mosier and Jason Mewes, but Ingram wisely lets Smith himself do most of the talking. But let’s be honest: there isn’t much presented here that most fans don’t already know.
The best parts of the film celebrate a guy who built his career from the ground up and in the process, became an icon for a generation of loyal fans. Smith gives a shout-out to his admirers, further cementing the symbiotic relationship of affection they have for each other. A few random fans are captured on film at Comic-Con, all singing the praises of one of the gods of geek culture. Anyone who has ever heard Smith speak at a live event will agree: he is a phenomenal public speaker. His natural knack for storytelling is unparalleled. He could talk for two weeks straight and I’d sit there and listen, hanging on every word.
This is what makes “Clerk” such an engaging documentary: the subject. As Smith himself says, how lucky it is that he “ended up being myself for a living.” There’s something to celebrate about that.