Breaking up with Kevin Smith

Breaking up with Kevin Smith

 

Slashfilm.com‘s editor, Peter Sciretta, recently asked a question that’s answer deserves a little exploration. He asks why all of film geekdom (that is, geek kingdom) has turned on Kevin Smith. It’s a fair question, as it does seem like Smith gets more hate than he deserves these days. Like Sciretta, I attended Smith’s Vulgarthon film festivals (All of them. And if you purchased a 9/11 fundraiser name badge/button in 2002, that was made by me). I can actually list my Kevin Smith geek love/obsession credentials all day long, but I digress. I discovered Smith as I entered my awkward teenage years, finding in him someone to identify with. The fact that he was interested in conversing directly with his fans through his website’s message board made him even more appealing.

 

 

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A photo with Kevin Smith at the Pleasantville, NY premiere screening of Jersey Girl in 2004.

 

However, someone recently noted that in those same online social circles, where diehard Smith fans like myself once praised him, now speak of him as if we’re jilted ex-girlfriends. And sadly, that’s not far from the truth. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know exactly why I gave up on someone who was a huge influence on me, and I can only guess there are others who feel the same. Simply put, I felt that I grew up and Smith didn’t.

 

 

 

Dante chats with ex Caitlin in Clerks, hoping the reunion will lead to them getting back together.

Dante chats with ex Caitlin in Clerks, hoping the reunion will lead to them getting back together.

 

It’s not that Smith swore off critics like Sciretta, but that he swore off all criticism. It seemed Smith got lazy, and didn’t want anyone to point that out. Like Sciretta, I feel Jersey Girl was unfairly maligned. It’s actually a sweet, well-made movie that’s capable of producing a few tears if you’re in the mood for schmaltz. But that film was also a turning point for me, a point where I watched Smith start to repeat himself. As much as I enjoyed Jersey Girl from the very first viewing (an advanced screening followed by a Q&A with Janet Maslin, naturally), I had a lot of trouble with the fact that the protagonist had to be pointed in the right direction instead of figuring things out on his own. In a celebrity ex machina, Will Smith appears, playing himself, helping Ben Affleck‘s character realize his priorities. Viewers were steered to a heartwarming conclusion, but it cheated the character (and viewers’) journey. Two years later, in Clerks 2, protagonist Dante doesn’t realize his bone-headedness until best friend Randal points it out, and sure enough we get a heartwarming conclusion in which it all works out once more. Jump ahead two years, and we get Zack and Miri Make a Porno, probably Smith’s most uneven film to date, feeling more like a filmed first draft. Yup, you guessed it – once more the protagonist (this time played by Seth Rogen) screws everything up, but is shown the error of his ways by friends, and once he acknowledges his mistakes, it’s all water under the bridge and we receive the heartwarming conclusion. I no longer bought it.

 

I don’t blame Smith for getting discouraged over the response to Jersey Girl and the films that followed. When Red State came around, I liked the fact Smith raised the money to produce the film himself after studios had all passed, but after I finally watched it, I saw it was a film a studio probably wouldn’t want to release because it wasn’t quite “there yet.” It felt like it might’ve been a draft or two away from being a good movie, but I imagine Smith didn’t want to hear that, either. He’s always appeared as a deeply sensitive person who deeply cares how others perceive him and his work. Perhaps the backlash became too much, but he suddenly stopped being an underdog and became more of a sore loser, one with the mentality of, “if you don’t like me, that’s your problem.” And while he never spared his opinions of others, a new period of shit-talking began. He had plenty to say about the film critics, but also appeared to have no problem burning bridges with colleagues and friends alike. He couldn’t wait to work with Bruce Willis on Cop Out, but then trashed the guy. And when asked about his once-frequent collaborator Ben Affleck, Smith basically blamed the actor’s wife Jennifer Garner for the fact they’re no longer friends. He later clarified he was joking, but it wasn’t the first time he called out Garner. Doing that to a guy’s wife isn’t the best way to fix an estranged relationship.

 

 

 

Ben Affleck  and Kevin Smith circa 2003 (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith circa 2003 (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images).

 

My break-up from Kevin Smith is similar to any other kind of break-up, I guess: I can no longer identify with him and so I’ve ended the relationship. I don’t harbor any ill-will, and I wish him the best, but we’re no longer right together. I was quite excited to see Tusk (rushing from the airport to make the Fantastic Fest premiere), and enthusiastically wrote about it being a return to form (which it is despite not being an objectively good film). I’m also still looking forward to Mallrats 2, and hope Smith continues to take on new challenges. But ultimately, I want another film from the guy who made Clerks and Chasing Amy, and that guy, it seems, is no longer around.

 

While I may be more open-minded and understanding of certain things, I can see why some contingents of his fans can’t be. His loyal fandom was built on a perceived emotional connection between him and his legion of followers, each of whom devoted a great deal of their time and energy supporting him. It’s impossible not to feel spurned when that connection changes.  Smith doesn’t owe his to fans anything and they can’t expect him to be anyone but who he now is. Sometimes a break-up is unavoidable. And like all other relationships, maybe you’ll get back together, or maybe you’ll just never speak again.

 

 

 

The last page of the Chasing Amy comic book seen in the film, in which Holden admits the mistakes he made in his relationship to Alyssa

The last page of the Chasing Amy comic book seen in the film, in which Holden admits the mistakes he made in his relationship to Alyssa.