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Clerks: I’ll bet you 20 bucks you should rent this movie

posted by Jen on 11/20/01

Many of us have a friend who acts as the designated logical influence in our lives. Whenever we face a personal dilemma, we rely on that person as the all-knowing sage who will provide a completely fresh perspective or offer the advice we sort of knew in the back of our minds but couldn’t admit to ourselves. Most of us select a person who leads a rather exemplary life, either an older brother who we always looked up to, a friend who has an ostensibly well-balanced life, maybe even a colleague or peer whom we emulate. The voice of reason in our lives is often a logical choice, a person who seemingly makes rational decisions and benefits from them.

In the movie Clerks, we are introduced to a guy clad in acid-washed jeans, a faded flannel and dirty baseball cap. A guy whose vernacular is mostly composed of the words asshole, cocksucker, and mother fucker. Just to name a few of Randal’s transgressions throughout the movie….he sells cigarettes to a four-year old girl, he knocks over a casket and exposes the corpse to an entire congregation of grieving friends and relatives, he spits a mouthful of water at an innocent customer at his friend’s convenience store, and he makes slurping noises at his friend’s girlfriend to indicate the fact that he knows she’s given 37 blow jobs in her life. And this guy Randal is undoubtedly the guy I would turn to for advice on any personal decision in my own life…

If you haven’t seen the movie, Clerks is a day-in-the-life tale of a 22-year old guy named Dante who grudgingly works at Quik Stop Convenience Store (even though he’s not even supposed to BE there that day). The movie details all of the misadventures of Dante, his friend Randal (who works at a nearby video store) and all of the customers and friends who come into their paths. The premise sounded pretty dull to me because, in theory, I wouldn’t really care to hear about a guy who works at a nearby convenience store, especially one in Jersey. (I can say that, I lived in Jersey for most of my life) And it’s not even like they cast any A-list actors like Jared Leto or James Marsden (OMG! He’s so hot) to portray any of the actors, so when I finished watching the movie, a movie that contains possibly the most accurate, well-written dialogue in any “Gen-X” movie, I was pleasantly surprised.

When I first saw the movie, about five years ago, I mainly focused on the protagonist and the unfortunate circumstances that befell him. I listened to his complaints and completely empathized with him. But in five years, I have changed a bit. I’ve met people who do nothing but complain about how awful their parents/friends/girlfriends/lives are, how they’ve always been dealt the short end of the stick, how they deserve some kind of social or monetary badge of courage for everything they’ve had to endure in life. And to be honest, I don’t sympathize anymore. Because when it comes down to it, we pretty much create our own problems. We’ve all lost someone close to us or endured problems that ARE out of our control, but for the most part, people agonize over the problems they created for themselves. In Clerks, Randal emerges as an unsuspecting beacon of logic and reason…even though his actions would lead us to believe he’s completely bereft of any sense at all.

In the early part of the movie, Dante is bewailing the fact that his high school girlfriend, Caitlin Bree, is engaged to be married. Meanwhile, Dante’s current girlfriend Veronica bakes him lasagne to cheer him up, defends his honor with a fire extinguisher when necessary, and encourages him to make something of his life. Dante completely disregards his current girlfriend when hearing about Caitlin Bree’s impending marriage and, as usual, bitches about it to Randal.

Randal nugget of knowledge #1:

Randal: Let the past be the past. Forget about Caitlin Bree…you been with Veronica how long now?
Dante: 7 months
Randal: Chic’s nuts about you. How long’d you date Caitlin?…She only made you nuts…how many times did she cheat on you?
Dante: 8 ½ times
Randal: ….And you think things would be different this time around?

Right here, excellent advice. Because if someone’s cheated on you 8 ½ times, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re going to keep doing it until you wake up and break it off, or until they get tired of you and break up with you themselves. Of course, people need to make their own mistakes, so Randal’s advice pretty much falls on a deaf ear.

Now to see Randal interact with customers might be disconcerting if I were on the Better Business Bureau or the like. But as incredibly rude as Randal is, he always imparts such interesting information that you can’t help but side with him. For example, when a customer asks Randal to choose the better of two movies, Randal completely ignores her, and the woman pretends to take two new movies and ask for his opinion. Randal, without looking up from what he’s reading, says “Those two suck.” So the woman triumphantly tells him, “These are the same two movies I asked you about before.”

Randal Nugget of Knowledge #2:

“I don’t appreciate your ruse ma’am…your ruse…your cunning attempt to trick me…I hope it feels good to be right. There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing our the shortcomings of others.”

Now, of course it would have been polite for Randal to simply look up from his reading and help the customer out, but you have to give it to him….he has a point. The woman actually took more pleasure in pointing out Randal’s inconsistent behavior than she would have if she had gotten a response from him. And isn’t it always easier to point out other’s shortcomings than our own? That’s probably why I spend a lot of time writing slanderous things about Kirk Cameron and Mona, rather than focusing on the fact that I’m probably going to be gainfully unemployed for a very, very long time.

Soon enough, Randal delivers some more helpful advice. Dante gets a call, we assume from the owner of Quik Stop or another employee, and learns that the guy who was supposed to come in at 12 to take over his shift decided to shirk his responsibilities and go to Vermont for an unspecified time. Instead of blowing up at the person on the phone and just walking out the door, Dante ends up apologizing and offering to help out as much as he can. True to humanity, Dante hangs up the phone and gets frustrated with himself for giving in and starts complaining again.

Randal Nugget of Knowledge #3:

“Why did you apologize? You had every reason to be mad! You buckle like a belt!”

And…he’s right again. If Dante had simply told the person on the phone that he had already made plans for the day and couldn’t possibly stay at the store any longer…all of the problems that occur in the upcoming hours never would have happened to him. Further, Dante would have gotten a sense of accomplishment for finally standing up for himself, and possibly grown more assertive in the future. Alas, Dante ignores Randal’s well-meant advice.

Kneel Before Zod!

In the next scene, the obedient and predictable Dante throws caution to the wind and decides to organize a hockey game on top of the Quik Mart. In this scene, arguably the best in the movie, Randal’s role of logician takes second fiddle to Dante’s hockey playing friend, up until the very end of the scene…Here’s about how it plays out:

Hockey friend: Hey Dante, I’m gonna grab a Gatorade
Dante: If you grab a Gatorade, then everyone’s gonna want one.
Hockey friend: What do you care?
Dante: I have a responsibility here. I can’t have everyone grabbing Gatorades whenever they want.
Hockey friend: Responsibility? What responsibility? You’re closing a fucking store to play hockey.
Randal: He’s blunt…but he’s got a point.
Dante: Will you let me maintain some semblance of managerial control here?
Hockey friend: All I’m saying is if you’re gonna be insubordinate, you may as well go the full nine, not pussy out when it comes to free shit to drink.
Randal: He’s right…as if we’re gonna have a run on Gatorade.
(Then brief discussion about Caitlin ensues)
Dante: Can we not talk about this [Caitlin]?
Hockey friend: Fine by me….but you’re living in denial and suppressing rage, mother fucker.

This scene here is so incredibly well-executed, I had to watch it several times. Because somehow, we’re perfectly stuck between siding with Dante, who is trying to just do his job, but then we realize that Randal and friend are completely right. Sure, Dante is trying to stick up for himself, but he’s picking a completely inappropriate time to do so. Both sides present logical arguments, but in the end, Dante loses. Because, they’re right, if you’re finally going to pull a bold move like organize a hockey game on the rooftop of the store at which you work…what good does it do to hold back on free drinks? As if the manager is gonna come back and said, “I can’t believe you had a game on the roof of our store!!!! But at least the Gatorade is well-stocked, well done, Dante.” Seriously though, for a guy who looks about as emotionally intuitive as Chris Matthews, the hockey friend hits the proverbial nail on the head with the comment about being in denial and suppressing rage. The scene is priceless. In fact, I would say that this guy is meant to be as rational as Randal…until he admits that he only brought one ball to the hockey game. Who brings one ball for a game of street hockey? I’m not Wayne Gretzky…but if someone asked me to bring equipment to a street hockey game, I think I’d know to pack some spare balls?

Of course, after the ball is lost, Dante complains about only getting to play for 12 minutes, and Randal wisely says, “Bitch, bitch, bitch. Hockey’s hockey, at least we got to play!”

I’m gonna lie here until you tell me “Here on Earth” is over!

In an upcoming scene, Dante learns that one of his ex-girlfriends died and the funeral is scheduled for the very day he’s working. Dante again complains about the fact that he can’t go because he has to work. Randal suggests he just close the store so they can go, reminding him, “You just closed the store to play hockey on the roof.” Which completely puts it into perspective to me…how disrespectful would it have been if Dante talked to the girl’s parents and tried to explain why he didn’t go to their daughter’s funeral…but did have time to get in a round of hockey that day….good thing he took Randal’s advice….

The fact that Randal knocked over the coffin and caused a major disturbance, is irrelevant…so let’s move to his next bit of ingenious wisdom…

Randal asks to borrow Dante’s car because he wants to rent a movie from a better video store. It does seem pretty dumb considering he works at a video store, but he provides a pretty fail-safe argument. Dante tries to tell him “We have certain obligations….that does mean manning the store until closing.”

Randal Nugget of Knowledge #4:

“So your argument is that title dictates behavior. The very reason you won’t let me use your car is because I have a title and a job description and I’m supposed to follow it?”

[Spits mouthful of water in a customer’s face]

Dante: WTF did you do that for??!
Randal: Two reasons:
1. I hate it when people can’t shut up about the stupid tabloid headlines. And…
2. To prove a point….Title does not dictate behavior. If title dictated my behavior, as a clerk serving the public, I wouldn’t be allowed to spit water at that guy. But I did…so my point is that people dictate their own behavior….even though I work at a video store, I choose to get movies at Big Choice.”

Now, of course Randal’s behavior was completely rude and unnecessary….but unfortunately, he’s right again. Dante has taken on this self-important role as a manager of a store, and has drawn the conclusion that as such, he has to act in certain ways. But Randal is right, we have unbridled free will in making decisions that affect our lives, completely independent of the roles conferred upon us by our places of employment…and Dante’s picking and choosing times in his day where he should exert “managerial control” is just inconsistent and illogical.

After a series of strange events in the movie that need to be watched to be fully appreciated, Dante’s ex-girlfriend Caitlin comes back into his life and unwittingly has sex with a dead guy in the bathroom whom she mistakes for Dante. (I didn’t say the movie was predictable) She comes out of the bathroom talking to Randal and Dante (not yet realizing that it wasn’t Dante in the bathroom) talking about how great it was that Dante let her take control and how it was the best sex she ever had. After the three of them realize that she just had sex with a complete stranger, Dante and Caitlin start freaking out and Dante tells Randal to call the police. In this scene, Randal utters the most inappropriate but most logical line in his career.

Dante: [Call the police] cause there’s a stranger in the bathroom and he just raped Caitlin!
Randal: …Uh….she just SAID she did all the work.

Again, completely out of line at such a disconcerting time in his friend’s life, but so damn accurate. I mean, as disgusting as it is to realize you just had sex with a 75-year old dead man…if you’re gonna brag about how great it was that you took control…it’s gonna be hard for you to argue that you were “raped.”

When everything blows over, Dante starts complaining about everything that just happened to him. Now, while it certainly is the most unfortunate circumstance one could imagine, Randal points out that in the end, it really is Dante’s fault…

Randal Nugget of Knowledge #5(?):

You know what the real problem here is? You sit there laying blame for dealing you a cruddy hand…never once accepting responsibility for the way your situation is…if you hate this job…why don’t you just quit?…Oh I see, cause this is convenient for you. And any attempt to change it would shatter the pathetic microcosm you’ve fashioned for yourself.

You’ve been bitching all day long. You date Veronica cause it’s convenient and she’s low maintenance. You carry a torch for a girl you dated in high school. If you want Caitlin, then talk to Veronica, if you want Veronica then be with Veronica. But don’t pine for one and fuck the other.

[Dante then complains that he’s been scared of change his whole life…and Randal delivers the definitive line for Dante’s life]

So what, you’re gonna sit and be miserable because you don’t have the guts to change?

After a crushing revelation is made and Randal makes a well-intended but stupid decision to tell Veronica about Dante and Caitlin, Veronica freaks out on Dante and Dante and Randal fight to the teeth.

After they’ve calmed down a bit, Dante makes his last self-pitying “I wasn’t even supposed to BE here today” before Randal lays into him with the last and final piece of wisdom.

Logical Randalism #1,000

I’m the source of your misery?! Who closed the store to play hockey? Who closed the store to go to a wake? Who tried to get back with his ex-girlfriend without even discussing it with his present one?

Nobody twisted your arm to be here. You’re here of your own volition. You like to think the weight of the world rests on your shoulders…like this place would fall apart if Dante wasn’t here…Jesus, you overcompensate for having a monkey’s job….Christ, you work at a convenience store!”

And it’s here, that Randal finally breaks through to Dante…


Footnote: In case you haven’t seen the movie and you think I’ve ruined it for you, I haven’t. I’ve probably covered about 1/10th of the dialogue and situations in this movie that should be required viewing for everyone. Seriously, as unassuming and illogical as it may seem, Randal, complete with his inappropriate behavior offers some well-meant and excellent advice…applicable to Dante, and applicable for anyone who feels hemmed into a career or relationship in which they don’t want to be. So, next time you snub the socially inept jokester in your class or the intellectual retard in your workplace…just think…this guy might help you to quell the latent necropheliac in your boyfriend or girlfriend. And with that, I close this article and e-mail Dave, Paul, and Kenn for advice on what I should write about next…or if I should be allowed to ever write again for that matter.



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