Kevin Smith's acerbic, authentic and peculiarly romantic debut is one of the funniest American movies of the 90s. Shot at night in the convenience store where Smith was working at the time - on a budget of $27,000 (a figure which rose to $230,000 after Miramax tarted it up in post-production) - "Clerks" is an era-defining portrayal of Generation X.
Dante Hicks (O'Halloran) is a 22-year-old no-hoper still holding a candle for high school bike Caitlin (Spoonhauer), who left him years before. His inferno is the Quick Stop Convenience Store, where he's working - as a favour to his boss - on his day off.
He's victim of an anti-smoking mob organised by a chewing gum sales rep, subject to requests to use the bathroom from porn-toting pensioners, and shocked to discover his current girlfriend's previous penchant for fellatio ("What is that anyway, something like 36? Does that include me?"). His travails are all the more bitter because, as he keeps whinging, "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
An episodic, dialogue-heavy picture shot in black and white, "Clerks" is nevertheless remarkably cinematic. Given Smith's subsequent point'n'shoot directorial style, it's surprising to return to his 94 debut and find that, despite being restricted to virtually one location, he constantly finds inventive settings for his plucky protagonists' wit-filled conversations.
Some of the acting has a touch of timber to it, and the true-to-life filthiness of store clerk banter may shock, but there's a warmth beneath all the profanity. It's as much about love between men as romanitic entanglements between lovers. When Dante's best friend - the openly abusive, frequently hilarious Randal (Anderson) - warns Caitlin "Break his heart again this time, and I'll kill ya. Nothing personal", he's not even half joking.