Welcome back to “I’m All Out Of Love”, in which I take a pop culture subject (film series, director, actor, television show, etc) and dissect how my ‘love’ of them from early on slowly dwindled and what my current stance on them is.
The indie film movement of the 1990s brought us a slew of great talents who have entertained us to this day. Those talents include the likes of Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jim Jarmush and Steven Soderbergh. Another one of those players I didn’t mention initially is Kevin Smith, a man born of meager origins in New Jersey who maxed out credit cards and made the widely-celebrated Clerks.
In the 20 years since, Smith has become more than just a director, branching out into comic books, television and podcasting. It’s clear that the man is nothing if not busy and I’ve consumed many of his various works. As a young lad, I was a rather big fan of Kevin Smith, both of his work and his personality. Being a fellow heavy set geek, I sort of looked up to Mr. Smith as someone I could be. But somewhere along the line, the adoration died down and I instead grew distant from the man I once considered an idol. When did that happen? How did this happen? Let’s start from the very beginning.
My discovery of Kevin Smith was quite similar to the way I discovered most of my bigger comedic influences: being bored one afternoon while watching Comedy Central. I remember stumbling across all sorts of weird little movies through the channel’s vast and uneven television package. One such film was this bizarre little comedy full of religious satire, movie references and censored language. That film was Dogma… well, it was mostly Dogma. The TV edit of Dogma is a curiosity, mostly because it cuts a great many things out. Hell, I didn’t even know the Golgothan shit demon was in there until I saw the uncut version months later. Yet, despite the choppy nature of its TV cut, I couldn’t help but be engaged by Dogma. It felt so different from most movies I had seen at that time. It was raunchy, but in a way that felt smart and relatable even in a situation this outlandish.
Around this same period, I also saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back on Comedy Central. While I enjoyed the very goofy lighthearted fun of it, I couldn’t help but feel confused by these other characters that were there outside of the ones I had seen in Dogma. It made me want to research the connections that those characters had to Jay and Silent Bob, which opened my eyes to the concept of “The View Askewniverse.” It was the first time I was introduced to the concept of a film universe in a non-genre world and it fascinated me on a conceptual level, so I was naturally drawn to watch the films within it. I proceeded to try and watch every single film, read every book and listen to every podcast that Kevin Smith had something to do with. I had become a full on geek for this fellow geek.
The Love Affair
As I mentioned earlier, what really drove me to Kevin Smith’s films was this clever use of vulgarity. The way he weaved dirty words into his dialogue felt more grounded than the way I had heard kids at school or even other raunchy movies use them. Yet, what really kept me interested in his filmography was how emotionally honest it felt. Even with subjects that were a bit dated by the time I saw them (some of the lesbian characters in Chasing Amy aren’t necessarily the most accurate representations), the struggles these characters went through felt genuine.
Whether it be Clerks’ & (to a lesser extent) Mallrats’ examination of being frustrated on stagnation in ones 20s, Chasing Amy’s look into feelings of male inadequacy or Dogma‘s exploration of losing faith, it seemed like all of those films really did come from a place that felt authentic. Even stuff as silly as Strike Back or as heavily flawed as Jersey Girl at least had this sincerity to them that helped even out the flaws. Plus, it was clear that Smith had an eye for talent, helping to bring up and coming folks like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Jason Lee into the spotlight.
But the films weren’t the only thing I liked about Smith. The man himself was someone I admired. Every audio commentary, podcast and Evening With DVD presented a guy who managed to be down to Earth and personable. Unlike my other favorite directors who often kept to themselves, Smith was so much more open and enjoyable. He was an overweight geek who managed to make it, thanks to a combination of timing and a genuine knack for writing. He constantly admitted that he was lucky to be in the position that he had and always showed a huge appreciation to his fan base, which endeared me even more to him.
There was a point where I’d buy and defend everything Smith did, from Clerks II to Jersey Girl to even some of his lesser producer only productions like Drawing Flies. Hell, I was such a Smith fanboy that there’s a picture somewhere of a thirteen year old me standing next to him at his Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic book store in New Jersey, embarrassing braces and all. It seemed like I’d never get tired of Kevin Smith’s antics, but…
Nothing Lasts Forever
I can vividly remember the moment my love for Kevin Smith started to wane. November 1st, 2008: The day I sat in a theater to watch Zack & Miri Make a Porno. Now, I don’t hate Zack & Miri. It’s a decent film that’s largely watchable thanks to the chemistry between Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen ad a few fun bits from supporting players like Craig Robinson and Jason Mewes. It’s just that, ultimately, it feels… hollow. The spark of life and unique voice that Smith brought to his earlier films just seemed to be traded in for wanna-be Judd Apatow style jokes and rather lazy attempts at shit jokes. It felt like Smith was trying too hard to adapt to a comedic landscape that had largely outgrown his older style. He’s even admitted as such in later specials and interviews, which gave me hope that he would do something better next time. That next time was Cop Out. I don’t think I have to go into that much detail as to why that project didn’t work beyond the simple truth that it really wasn’t funny and that there’s no real comedic chemistry between an unhinged Tracy Morgan and a bored out of his mind Bruce Willis.
No, the real element of Cop Out that needs focus is Kevin Smith’s response to the critical reaction. Rather than take a mature approach and accept that critics didn’t enjoy his film, he chose to moan about how unfair critics were, going so far as to threaten to bar critic advanced screening of his future films. Before this, Smith never really let critical consensus bug him to the point of being that negative. Yet with those comments, he suddenly became this whiny prick who let people’s genuine opinions of his work become personal.
Then again, I had been noticing a sizable change in Smith’s behavior ever since he publicly went back to smoking marijuana following the disappointment of Zack & Miri. Mind you, I’m not against people smoking weed by any stretch, but Kevin Smith’s humor became so one note on podcasts since he started smoking again, always striving for the predictable jokes about weed, penises or feces. It got to a certain point where I’d listen to either SModcast or Hollywood Babble-On more for the sake of his co-hosts rather than Kevin himself before eventually dropping them all together. The man I had once admired had become this annoying public persona that bitterly took his toys away from the metaphorical sandbox and strove for the lower brow in a way that just turned me off.
Despite many of the things I’ve said, I will definitely say that I still respect Kevin Smith as an artist. Sure, Cop Out was an unfunny dud, but I still give Smith credit for following it up with a project 180 like Red State. For all the issues I have with that film (mainly its ending), it showed that Smith still has the creative reflexes to do something outside of his comfort zone and actually do a solid job of it. It makes me curious about his upcoming film Tusk, which promises to be more in the vein of Red State‘s dark horror/thriller style. Plus, I still do enjoy much of his previous work, from the triumphs of Clerks, Dogma & Chasing Amy to the flawed yet charming Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Mallrats & Clerks II. They all have the same passion and drive that made me a fan of Smith in the first place, even after years of rewatching them.
Honestly, my current issues with Kevin Smith are with him as a media personality. The laid back & witty creative spirit of before has become this attention seeking clown with engorged hubris. He seems to be in this bubble of following the words of his die hard fans and listening to little outside influence. While it’s worked surprisingly well enough for his recent films, it’s caused him to degrade as a speaker and podcaster, resulting in lackluster productions like his AMC show Comic Book Men or his Hulu movie watching web-show Spoilers! Smith’s statements about being the Spielberg of podcasting haven’t helped quell those feelings either. And don’t even get me started about these rash of “Here’s something else about how awesome the new Batman V. Superman with my boy Ben Affleck is going to be! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” quotes that have been coming from him in the recent months. It just makes me cringe every time I see him fanboyishly promoting something like a puppet for Zack Snyder & Warner Bros.
Still, I can at least respect his desire to not simply be a filmmaker and those earlier podcasts and Evening With specials still make me laugh. I’ll just have to wait until he calms down a bit more before I get back into the man himself. Until then, I’ll just stick to watching Kevin Smith’s films for now… along with Clerks: The Animated Series.
Seriously, that shit needed way more episodes.