In my newest post about the movies of Generation-X, I chose to write a little bit about one of the funnies comedies of the 1990s, Clerks.
The movie is kinda brilliant.
One of the problems with many films made about young people in the ‘90s is that screenwriters tried so hard to make their characters hip. Think about Reality Bites, a movie that sank under the weight of forced injection of pop culture references into every scene and the characters’ boring, drawn-out examinations of their lives.
And then consider Clerks, a welcome reaction to phony movies like Reality Bites. With its biting dialogue and true-to-life feel, you might actually want to spend a few hours discussing girls and Star Wars trivia with Clerks’ characters.
Kevin Smith’s first picture, shot in black-and-white on a $28,000 budget, looks at Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two slackers who work in adjoining retail stores in Jersey. Dante mans the register in a QuikStop market, while Randall runs a failing video store right next door. Stuck in dead-end jobs, the college dropouts spend their days discussing Return of the Jedi, stupid customers and fetish pornography with the same fervor as PhD candidates discussing their research.
I haven’t ever felt badly after viewing a John Hughes movie before. From Ferris Bueller to Sixteen Candles to Home Alone, I was never bored by any of his pics. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Hughes only true “adult” movie, is a triumph of 1980s screenwriting and acting. So it’s sad to watch She‘s Having A Baby, another so-called “grown up“ pic. Even with a few good scenes, it’s easily the most boring movie with Hughes’s name attached to it. And a weak Hughes flick to me is strangely disheartening.
Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern star as Jake and Kristy Briggs, a couple of recent college graduates with minimal career aspirations and undying love for one another. For the first few minutes, Kevin Bacon gives an extremely boring voiceover chronicling his life from meeting his fiance until college graduation.
About two hours into Ryan’s Daughter, I was only thinking about an episode of “Seinfeld” I’d watched a few days earlier. That’s right. My mind wouldn’t stop mulling over the “English Patient” episode where Elaine finally slouches over next to J. Peterman in the middle of a screening of the film and screams “It’s too long!”
That how I feel about David Lean’s movie, and my stray thoughts present two problems. First, the film is a simple love story stretched into an unbearable running length. And secondly, I was thinking about an episode of “Seinfeld” for about the last hour of the picture when I should’ve been wrapped up in the action. Not a strong vote of confidence.
A Shock to the System, a pic about an under-appreciated ad man who sets out to exterminate everyone who serves as a roadblock on his path to success, is a fun watch, but little else. The comedy is generally to my taste–pitch-black. Michael Caine is, honestly, in one of his best five roles of all time. Swoosie Kurtz, as his domineering wife, and Elizabeth McGovern, as a beauty at the ad agency where he works, are both fine. Peter Reigert, as the youn’in whose destined to get the promotion Caine’s character deserves and yearns for, is quite funny. So what’s missing?
After a second viewing, I’m certain that the script just doesn’t hold together. There are brilliant scenes of dark comedy followed by pedestrian sequences of cat-and-mouse police games. The ending, far too predictable, isn’t nearly as over-the-top as it should be.
I do know one thing, though: nothing that goes wrong is Michael Caine’s fault.
Yeah, okay, I’m definitely a few years beyond the Generation-X cutoff, but it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy movies about our favorite late-’80s and ’90s outcasts, slackers and burnouts.
Right now, I’m writing a series of reviews of Gen-X movies, regardless of whether they’re good or not. And I’m playing the professor and assigning letter grades to each movie…something I almost never do.
To kick things off, I watched Reality Bites, a movie that’s supposedly all about Generation-X, a week ago. I sort of remember giving it a spin a few years back and, at the time, I thought it was pretty damn funny and perceptive.
My current (and less favorable) assessment:
Reality Bites (1994)
Reality Bites, Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, is an unworthy Gen-X staple, a mostly cliché story of four Houston college grads who wander out of graduation into dead-end jobs. While its opening third is perceptive and funny, it ultimately becomes just another formulaic study of young adults trying to find themselves and fall in love in a mean corporate world.
The pic stars Winona Ryder as Lelaina, valedictorian of her college class, who, armed at all times with a video camera, obsessively films all her friends being “spontaneous.” They include the sharp-tongued slacker musician Troy (Ethan Hawke), the funny and sensitive Vicki (Jeneane Garofalo) and the shy Sammy (Steve Zahn).
“Frasier,” is probably one of the best three or four sitcoms to ever grace the small screen. The premise, that of two nitpicky, sophisticated, unathletic psychiatrist brothers and their interactions with their beer-swilling retired cop father, a sex-crazed producer and a flighty British health-care worker, sounds like it could go either way. It might be just a bit too quirky and self-conscious, right?
That isn’t the case at all. “Frasier” is a remarkable comedy show that aired between 1993 and 2004, at about the same time when “Seinfeld” was considered the gold-standard for half-hour prime-time sitcoms. While I adore “Seinfeld,” my favorite show of that era will always be “Frasier.” Being ten years old, I remember watching “Frasier” with my parents and watching half of the jokes whiz clear over my head. Now, almost fifteen years after I watched my first episode of “Frasier,” I love being able to give it a glance and actually get almost 80% of the jokes. Honestly, I’ve actually expanded my vocabulary by listening to Niles’ and Frasier’s banter.