Normally, movies are an escape form reality, from the humdrum, everyday routine we all must endure. Sometimes, a film focuses on the futility of ordinary lives and how absurd they may seem he viewed from an outsider’s vantage point. By most criteria Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is a loser. He sleeps in his clothes is a train a room that resembles the aftermath of a tornado and has a menial job tending a convenience store located in a strip mall in New Jersey. Dante seems to have resigned himself to a life devoid of meaning and minimum wage. On his day off his boss calls and demand that he take an extra shift at the store and the worse possible day in his life begins. First the locks are the entrance is glued shut requiring Dante to fashion a crude banner stating ‘I assure you we are open’. Actually, this was an innovative device by the director to cover the fact that he could only film in the store when it was closed. Dante’s best friend Randall (Jeff Anderson) works in a low class video store in the same strip mall. Randall is also a loser but is much more vocal and accepting of his lack of ambition. Business is so bad in the video store that Randall spends most of his time with Dante discussing such vital issues as whether it was faire to kill innocent construction workers in the second death star in Return of the Jedi.
The dark humor of this film comes from how familiar the topics are to us the audience. We have all seen the characters in this flick, from the woman that searches for the freshest milk in the display case (played by the director’s mother) to the little girl buying cigarettes, the people we laugh at here live among us. Even the wannabe drug dealers outside Jay (Jason Mewes) and his partner Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) are a familiar part of the landscape for many of us. While this film could have easily degraded into a bunch of people standing around what we get is an inner view of regular lives that makes us laugh. This film has the notable distinction of originally rated NC-17 although there is absolutely no nudity or violence. The extremely frank discussion of sex and the use of profanity was seen by the MPAA as completely without merit. Fortunately, director Kevin Smith’s appeal was taken into account and the film was released virtually untouched with an R rating. Like each ring of torture in Dante’s Inferno (hence the hapless main character’s name) each segment of the film inflicts more and more misery.
The cast of this film received their roles mostly by virtue of being friends with director Kevin Smith. Brian O'Halloran is absolutely perfect as the put upon protagonist of the film. In each scene his dogged expression is one of resignation to his plight. He just wants to survive the day fully realizing that the next morning will bring the same thing around again. Marilyn Ghigliotti takes her role as Dante’s girlfriend in a refreshingly strange direction. Her candid remarks about her previous sexual encounters have become one of the best known scenes in the film. If you look closely you will see that several actors merely don a wig and play more than one character. While most of the performances are on the amateur side it only adds to the success of the film. Glossy, professional performances would have ruined this film; the charm is in how well we can identify with the characters. This is a slice of life played for laughs and the cast is fully aware of this fact and makes the most of it.
This freshmen effort by up coming director/writer/actor Kevin Smith is a rare treat. The story is about a day in the life of a convenience store clerk and all that happens to him. Filmed in black and white for only $27,000 (mostly on the credit cards of friends) Smith weaves a tale of complexity that holds your interest and draws you into to these common place lives. The film was made in the same convenience store that Smith worked and uses many of his childhood friends. Rather than giving the film an amateurish feel it adds to the realism since it is obvious that these people really know other. There are a few director's trademarks established in this film that Smith carries on to his other films. His love of the Star Wars movies, his admiration of the film Jaws and the first appearance of Jay and Silent Bob played by Jason Mews and Kevin Smith. While many feel that Smith has sold out and become too commercial, this film, although his first, still ranks as one of his best. It obviously came form his own experiences and from the heart. His ability to take a darkly humorous look at the mundane makes this one of the most successful independent films around.
This film has enjoyed several incarnations on DVD but this three disc tenth anniversary edition is by far the best of the lot. The film was made on the cheap in black and white and the video presented here is not what most DVD collectors would expect. Actually, the flaws are part of what makes this film realistic. The mastering does provide the video the way it was filmed and that is what is important. The audio is basic two channel mono but gets the job done. There are two versions of the film presented, the actual theatrical release most of us know and the original unrated Sundance Film Festival version. It is interesting to watch both back to back and compare what was altered to prepare the film for general release. There is a commentary track that typical of other Smith commentaries is funny, informative and self depreciating. It comes across like a proud father talking about his first born. The third disc is devoted to a strange set of featurettes including an examination of the ‘Snowball Effect’ relating to the subject matter Ms. Ghigliotti discusses in the film. Also included is a question and answer session looking back at the ten years since the film’s release and the now famous Flying Car scene form the Tonight Show. Forget the previous releases, get this one and enjoy it over and over again.