Sean K. Cureton

Snootchie Bootchies, Kevin Smith

In My Favorite Movies on May 17, 2014 at 11:54 am

Theatrical Poster

Mallrats
Directed by Kevin Smith
Commercial Release: October 20, 1995

Initially conceived as a teen comedy a la Porky’s, and building upon the success of then indie darling Clerks, Kevin Smith’s sophomore feature is one of the most critically derided films of recent memory. After the run away success of his first feature film in 1994, Universal Pictures executive producer James Jacks approached Smith about doing another film in the same vein as his debut, in the hopes of producing a lucrative comedy from what was then the hot new voice in the American independent film circuit. Eagerly, Smith took the bait, hoping to use the money afforded him by the Hollywood studio to make a film like Clerks, only this time around his trademark characters would be granted the spacious environs of a mall to inhabit, as opposed to the small and confined corner store of his first film. As the production of Mallrats began to get under way, Smith was beset and beleaguered by demands and constrictions from Universal Studios that only served to hamper him from producing the film that he intended to make, including the insistent request for a casting call for the role of Jay, who had previously been played by the character’s namesake and chief source of inspiration Jason Mewes, as well as numerous concerns when it came to how long the film was taking to complete and how much money it was going to cost. When the film finally saw its release date on October 20, 1994, many of the same critics that had applauded Smith’s verve and charming naiveté only a year before were quick to deride Mallrats as a shallow film, raunchy to its core and stupid beyond belief.

When I first saw Mallrats in high school, I was struck by its charming immediacy, its ability to talk to me directly without overtly pandering for my approval, as some such teen comedies are wont to do. Admittedly, at the time I was the film’s core audience, my movie watching diet subsisting almost entirely of irreverent youth-centric comedies, my favorite director at the time being Judd Apatow, who I then naively took for a moviemaking God. Over the years, my interests have changed, and so has my taste in film, with my attention moving away from Kevin Smith’s penchant for sailor mouthed characters caught up in the adolescent fantasy fueled panels of comic books penned by Stan Lee, to films dedicated to the craft and history of filmmaking as an institution. While I may now cite someone such as Paul Thomas Anderson as a moviemaking God, and may on occasion speak deridingly of the types of comedies that I used to take as my bread and butter, Kevin Smith still remains a hero in my eyes, even if the years have developed a certain distance between myself and his more recent cinematic fare. Nevertheless, when I think back on the entire oeuvre of Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse catalogue, including his cult classic masterpiece Clerks, as well as his gender comedy and independent triumph Chasing Amy, his sophomore effort is still the film that I turn back to again and again whenever I think about Smith’s legacy as it has affected my own writing and thinking about the films that I profess to love; Mallrats may still be the red-headed step child in Smith’s eyes, but to me its more like the rough first draft of the seminal coming of age epic that continues to give shape and definition to how I watch, think, write, and talk about movies.

Starting from the opening title sequence, which is accompanied by grand scale comic book renderings of the film’s cast of characters as well as the decidedly teen-angst fueled anthem “Social” from the pop-punk band Squirtgun, Mallrats starts on a high, encapsulating the mindscape of adolescent angst and fantasy to a tee. For all intents and purposes, T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee) are superheroes on a small scale, bravely venturing into the contemporary structure of mass consumerism without buying a thing, discussing the virtues of mid-mall snacking, and bravely demanding their right to tremble in supplication before the great Stan Lee, thereby emblazoning and uplifting the penniless youth to the stature of rebellious demigods, Wolverine and Loki in turn. What’s more, Jason Lee’s portrayal of the film’s centrifugal anti-hero Brodie should, by all rights, be forever remembered as on a par with other such teen comedy icons as Sean Penn’s surfer bum Jeff Spicoli from the Cameron Crowe penned classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or Matthew McConaughey’s career making turn as David Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s seminal coming-of-age comedy Dazed and Confused. In more ways than one, Brodie should have been the comic teen hero of the 1990’s, encapsulating the youthful abandon, innocence, and hope of an era untouched by the horrors and paranoia shortly awaiting the world at the turn of the century. From his schlubby wardrobe to his general sense of dissatisfaction and disrespect for figures of conservative authority, Brodie is the centerpiece of Smith’s sophomore outing, stink palming the mind of any impressionable youth lucky enough to have found the film at the exact right moment in their lives, and leaving a lingering impression that can’t be scrubbed away no matter how many times you wash your hands.

On a slightly larger scale, Mallrats also stands as possibly the last film about innocence that Smith ever penned, both in terms of Smith’s then adolescent immaturity as well as his naïveté concerning the film industry as a whole at the time. After the critical and monetary failure of Mallrats, Smith’s creative output became decidedly more adult, tackling subjects and themes that have never been a strong suit for Smith as a writer. While Chasing Amy, the third and final feature film in what was at the time conceived as a planned trilogy that took place along one centralized time line and in the same fictive universe, was a brave step forward in terms of representing homosexual relationships within the typically conservative romantic comedy genre, the ending of the film falls apart when Smith’s own inexperience in such matters leads him to construct an ending for the film that feels cheap, misguided, and completely out of left field in terms of the actions taken by the characters involved. After Chasing Amy, Smith began tackling larger and larger subjects, most notably being the Catholic Church in his religious satire Dogma, which failed to offer any solutions for the fairly nuanced criticisms and grievances that are brought forward in the film’s rhetoric, while simultaneously trying to maintain the irreverent charm of his first two features to smaller returns. Perhaps the spark of genius that gave birth to Clerks and Malllrats was too honest to replicate exactly, forcing Smith to either move on to grander canvases that he lacked the skill to paint, or to return to the well of initial inspiration that had already been drained by his first, and greatest, feature films.

Mallrats is a not a good movie. Its immaturity and lack of technical finesse betrays its director for being entirely out of his depth when it comes to directing a major studio production. But that’s not why I love it. I love Mallrats because of how hopeful its characters are, how sweet the romantic sub-plots are in their shot-by-cupid simplicity, and, most importantly, for Jason Lee’s remarkable and utterly unforgettable performance as Brodie, a character whose laissez-fare demeanor and quick witted retorts still define what it is to be cool and confident to me to this day. Kevin Smith might not be the world’s greatest director. In point of fact, he might be one of the very worst, but to me, he is an inspiration and the reason why I thought it was worthwhile to pursue writing about films, studying cinema in college, and deepening my appreciation and understanding of the art as a whole as a life long vocation and hobby. Mallrats is one of my favorite movies of all times, a fact of which I am not ashamed, but embrace to the fullest extent of my persisting passion and admiration for Smith’s View Askewniverse oeuvre.

Mallrats is available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD, and is the second film to be included as one of My Favorite Movies.

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