Kevin Smith’s new internet show Spoilers has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of a harsh critic at times, but not every movie deserves to be “revered.” Sometimes a movie is just bad, and as long as one’s reasoning is clearly articulated, there’s no reason to discount a negative opinion. Any theory, if logically stated and backed up, is worth considering.
The weirdest thing about Kevin Smith is that, despite a huge fanbase fanatically devoted to everything he does, he still gets extraordinarily defensive about his work, particularly films that aren’t terribly well-received. For a good chunk of my teen years, I adored his work, identifying with his outcast group of characters. This adoration started and ended with Mallrats, the movie that both inducted me into the View Askewniverse and later helped me out of it. What changed? What was it that was so offputting about Smith’s movie that it cast a negative light on the rest of his work?
Maybe if he weren’t so bitter, it would be easier to like him.
Freshman year of high school, I joined the many nerds before me who realized that high school theatre could make you, if not popular, then at least socially acceptable. I got a bit role in the fall play and went to absolutely every rehearsal. I didn’t need help with my grand total of four lines, but I Ioved the social atmosphere. After our final show, there was a wrap party in another cast member’s house. I showed up late with a couple of twelve packs of Coke my mom bought for me and headed to the pseudo-subterranean Caribbean equivalent of a basement to awkwardly fraternize with my peers.
There they were, sitting clustered around the TV, the opening credits of a DVD on the screen. I hadn’t heard of Kevin Smith at the time, so I certainly hadn’t heard of Mallrats. Perhaps it was the post-performance buzz, the thrill of consensual social interaction, or simply the fact that it’s nearly impossible not to thrill a fourteen-year-old with a raunchy comedy, but I adored it. Shortly afterward I bought a copy of the movie for myself, where it remained in my overstuffed DVD binder completely untouched for the rest of high school and the entirety of college.
I popped it in one day after graduation, remembering the movie fondly despite having no real recollection of the characters or the plot. I was no longer an awkward, friendless teen, but I still had an affinity for a raunchy comedy and I’d enjoyed what few other Kevin Smith movies I could get my hands on. Even if the movie didn’t live up to my expectations, it would at least be a fun waste of time.
It was less than thirty minutes before I had to turn it off. I sit through absolute dreck all the time, but I just couldn’t stand this. What changed? I’d certainly changed, but had it been so drastic that I could no longer enjoy the simpler pleasures in life? Had I grown so serious that there was no fun left? Clearly there must have been something there to charm me in the first place. A few years later, I tried watching the movie again, sitting through the entire thing this time. Once again, it proved to be extremely obnoxious, but it was hard to pinpoint the exact reasoning.
Sure, the dialogue is unnatural and awkward, but some of the performances are genuine enough to forgive the material they have to work with. The story isn’t really compelling, but there are plenty of bland stories out there that are enjoyable enough. There are some fun one-liners in the middle of the stilted conversations, and plenty of nerdy references that haven’t dated themselves too much. What is it, then, that makes Mallrats so reprehensible? Sure, I couldn’t get much into the characters, but-
T.S. and Brodie both lose their relationships on the same day, and the heart of Mallrats is their separate attempts to salvage their crumbling relationships. T.S. has no character other than “witty” dialogue and the fact that he loves a girl that the audience has no connection to, and Brodie is a jobless slacker whose obsession with comic books goes beyond general nerdery to the point where he ignores his sex-starved girlfriend.
They are the protagonists, the ones we are meant to identify with, and neither one has anything to show for it. They are meant to embody the loveable loser, that relatable character that simultaneously show us that we are human and that we are at least better than somebody who happens to be in a movie. In high school, when we are just as optimistic for the future as we are bitter about the present, they personify that future identity that we figure we can overcome but still fear becoming. Out of high school, they are just complete losers.
This isn’t to say that those who don’t achieve their absolute highest dreams have failed in life, or that people held back by others or by circumstance are somehow lesser people. There is nothing wrong with life going in an unexpected direction, or having to wait a few years for one’s goals to pan out. These are mostly two-dimentional characters, people who have no character traits other than their inability to succeed, and while it’s easy to relate to them as a teen because of that drowning, flailing feeling of adolescence, it’s hard to like them as an adult because we’ve learned better. Our bitter feelings at the world have, for the most part, faded away, and while we may still have cynical outlooks, we also know that our own outlooks have a lot to do with our fates.
It’s hard to look at the characters alone without looking at their creator. Kevin Smith started out as an under dog, and continues to think of himself as such despite his enormous wealth and success. It’s obvious in his reaction to criticism that he still thinks anyone with a negative reaction to his work is picking on him. It’s a feeling many of us former outcasts have for a while: every criticism or minor jab is taken personally, as if the world that picked on us for so long continues to stuff us in lockers at every opportunity.
Everyone has felt out of their depth. Everyone has felt like the world has noticed their insecurities and is mocking them endlessly every time they pop up. The difference between Kevin Smith and the rest of the world is that we’ve realized that we’re our own greatest enemies, that nobody other than ourselves remembers the stupid things we say and the actions we regret. Smith is still stuck in that high school world, the eternal loser mentality, where the world is out to get you. Mallrats is stuck there with him, the losers still bitter about their lot in life who haven’t realized that the world is more accepting than they were lead to believe. Life is far better than Mallrats because our attitudes are far better than Mallrats.
Also, “snoochie boochies” is seriously the most annoying catch phrase ever. C’mon, man.