Friday, August 21, 2009

Kevin Smith needs a career intervention

PhotobucketI was a big fan of Kevin Smith there for a while, until I realised while I was growing up, his style wasn't. Now I kind of see him as someone who's sort of spinning his wheels, rather than living up to the potential he showed in his early  movies.

I do like Kevin Smith, and he seems like a fun, refreshingly down-to-earth kinda guy. His audience is slavishly devoted people who tend to be a lot like him, but to grow beyond that audience I think he has to change a bit. His films have fallen into a pattern -- raunchy profanity-plastered opening scenes, a big gross-out set piece or two then an off-key, sentimental finale. His dirty minded-yet-sensitive throne was usurped by Judd Apatow in movies like "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," which to my mind achieved the right tone a lot smoother than Smith manages to with a similar style.  

PhotobucketThere's been little cinematic growth in Smith's work since the superb "Chasing Amy" 12 years ago, which now seems to be where he peaked. "Clerks," his first, and "Chasing Amy," his third movie, stand out as strong statements in a way few of his other movies do.  I've a real soft spot for "Chasing Amy," which manages to dissect men and women's relationships with more truth than most movies. It's one of Ben Affleck's best performances, and when the characters screw up - which they do, frequently - it seems to reflect the way people really act, doing inane things out of misplaced motives, rather than just slapstick for the camera. There's plenty of dick 'n' drugs humour, but there's also a real emotional heart to "Chasing Amy" that doesn't pander.

Few of his movies have been outright awful (the forgettable "Jersey Girl" comes close), but since the flawed but thought-provoking "Dogma," they haven't been all that great either. "Dogma" was a key moment for Smith - I think it's his most interesting, epic story by far, a sweeping tale of God and Satan and the human schmoes caught in between armageddon. But a promising script is mucked up by a low budget, some terribly amateur directing and acting that's all over the show (put Alan Rickman and Jason Mewes in the same movie, and you get whiplash). I think if Smith had given his script to someone with a real vision to direct, "Dogma" could've been a turning point for him.

Instead, he fell back on geek jokes and goopy sentiment with his follow-up, the amiable but very underachieving road trip "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," which was billed as a "farewell" to the "View Askew universe." No such thing - they'd be back in "Clerks II," a sequel that had interesting bits and some really terrible sections, yet was kind of unneccessary in the end. It was one for the fans, rather than a story that needed to be told.

Photobucket His latest movie, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," has a hilarious title and a funny premise - lifelong loser friends decide to enter the world of porn to earn money - but the movie gradually runs out of steam. It's a lot of gags and ideas tossed at the screen to see what sticks, and once again Smith gives in to his inner Nora Ephron to end the movie on a feel-good note. If you're going to title a movie "Zack and Miri Make A Porno," you probably need to just go for broke the entire time rather than make a hybrid comedy/romance. It's got its moments - a Smith movie is rarely boring, and usually gets some laughs - but never lives up to its awesome title. With "Chasing Amy," all the sex jokes and talk actually kind of told you something about the human condition -- in "Zack and Miri," they're just jokes.

I just remember being quite dazzled by "Chasing Amy" ("this guy is speaking to me!) in a way that his work hasn't measured up to since. Smith's work has had a kind of slacker aesthetic, which is part of his charm, but gets a bit old - he's written some comic books series which are legendary for being late or never finishing publication at all. He's pushing 40, and it's maybe time to ease off on the Silent Bob sex jokes and try to stretch. If he wants to break out of just playing to his fan base, he needs to take some chances, and try something truly different.

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