It's been 25 years, and I think I can finally see the sailboat...
I am not sure the statute of limitations is over on this, but I downloaded Mallrats in 8th grade, and I think it changed my life. (For legal reasons, this is a joke.) Mallrats was my gateway drug into the world of Kevin Smith. That world, like ours, has extreme highs and extreme lows. and somehow Mallrats encapsulates everything in the Smith aura.
It's both a movie from someone who can deeply connect to basic emotions and speak to an audience, but also can lean into the idiosyncratic goofiness of Smith, which does not always translate into mainstream entertainment.
On this anniversary of Mallrats, Smith himself feels conflicted about his sophomore effort.
After all, this was a movie that was seen as a crazy disappointment. Not only did critics savage it, but the box office was also limited. At the time, this really pained Smith, but in the years since, he's come to peace with the movie and even plans to shoot a sequel next year.
I think it was our first look into the much broader side of him, and it really was predictive of what the future held for him. Over time, the movie made a profit, and Smith was able to shake what some called a sophomore slump. He has pivoted his career half a dozen times since then and become sort of an iconoclast within the industry.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Smith opened up about all things Mallrats... his answers were long and engaging and worth hearing.
So let's dive in.
One thing I think is funny is that despite loving long answers himself, Smith prefers this theatrical edition of the movie to the longer, extended cut that was released. In the extended version, Svenning (Michael Rooker) and T.S. get in a fight at the Governor's Ball and it explains why he despises T.S. so much.
With that out of the movie, his anger for the kid is never addressed.
But for Smith, that's never been the point of the movie, and it doesn't make it any better knowing it.
"Honestly, I still feel like the theatrical cut is the better version of it. Any movie called Mallrats that takes 30 minutes to get to the mall is not functioning properly. So it took us a long time to get to the place where the whole movie was fucking set. And in retrospect, [the Governor’s Ball] was a mistake. In cutting it down, I was able to get the kids to the mall as quickly as possible so the adventure was off and running. So I still prefer the theatrical cut; it makes more sense to me."
Another thing Smith addresses is how his career has sort of come full circle with Mallrats.
Not only was it the first movie in the extended View Askewniverse, which was an idea everyone wants now, but it also was one where he would make a choice that echoed throughout his career. Back in 1995, comic books were not as cool as they are today.
Smith made a movie obsessed with comics. So much so that he got Stan Lee to cameo. This was a huge deal at the time and is even bigger now.
Mostly because it inspired many other Stan Lee cameos. Especially one special one.
Here's how Smith puts it... in long form:
"Years later, my man is on a train in Captain Marvel, and he’s reading a Mallrats script and reciting his line out loud. And there’s my name on the script. It was almost as if he returned the favor. I was a flavor of the month, pop-culture kid in terms of 1995, and here he was firmly ensconced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and part of the American pop culture landscape forever. And then he gave me a shoutout, which was almost like, 'Hey kids, you might not remember this guy, but he played Silent Bob.' It was really kind of poetic and to hear him saying his line, which, to be fair, was some shit that he would say in real life all the time: 'Trust me, true believer.' It was everything."
You'd have to be cold at heart not to tear up a little reading that.
Smith is a divisive filmmaker.
I know every time I write about him here there's always someone saying he's trash. And I don't think he cares. I think he did back then, but not now.
As Smith puts it, "Hopefully, 26 years into my career, people understand that I mean this when I say this. Winning an Oscar is not really important to me. Academy Awards and stuff, which is the bellwether, highmark of our trade and craft, is just not that important to me. Having Stan Lee reading a copy of the Mallrats script, which then kind of meta-shouts out the cameo he did, and it’s the only cameo he ever did in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where we know for a fact he’s playing Stan Lee... And thus, puts the View Askewniverse firmly into the Marvel Universe as well, which means during the snap, I might’ve made it and shit like that. That is far better, to me, than winning the tin. That’s my kind of Oscar right there, man. And the symmetry to it, with him coming full circle from Mallrats, from one cameo to a lifetime of cameos by the end of his run, meant everything, at least for me."
Smith has been revisiting his characters in recent years. After the hilarious and stellar (in my opinion) ode to friendship in Clerks II, he rebooted Jay and Silent Bob, which was very profitable for Universal, if not universally enjoyed.
That movie was more gags than a story, with awesome cameos, but it left many wanting more in the way of that patented Smith heart and emotionality.
So what is there left to say about a Mallrats sequel?
"[...] It was weird going into Twilight of the Mallrats because now I’m 25-26 years in this business and into my craft. And yeah, there are certain things, like, 'All right, thematically, where’s everything going to wind up and what’s the character’s arc?' And I’m like, 'I didn’t think like that when I wrote it last time, so I don’t know if I should think like that when I write it this time.' Anyone who’s like, 'I want to see number two of that, especially a fucking quarter of a century later,' you would imagine that you have to give them something that is achingly familiar with Mallrats. You can’t give them something completely dressed up, call it Mallrats and have them be like, 'Well, wait, why is he learning lessons? Why is this happening?' So it was a tricky tightrope act to follow where I was like, 'Well, I want to do this, but at the same time, I want it to feel like it needed to exist.' And in order to do that, you have to give it reason to. So, as I wrote it, I found myself grappling it more as a writer than I have with most of the recent scripts I’ve written. It sounds weird to say, but it’s like I had to constantly throttle back in order to tell the Mallrats story properly, versus where I am as a storyteller now in my life. I hate to say it like this, but I have to dumb down in order to go back to the mall, I guess."
Time will tell if the Mallrats sequel lives up to what Smith hypes it to be, but in the meantime, we can rewatch the original and appreciate it. It's an ode to those classic 80s hangout comedies and something that just wanted to make us laugh... and think a little bit. But never too much.
I'm interested in where Smith goes from here. He's making what he cares about and not caring what we think. That might be the most dangerous place for a filmmaker to reside. What he does with it is up to him.
I just hope we get one more classic before it's all over.
Let me know what you think about Smith, Mallrats, and his legacy in the comments.