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From two directors, a Gen X call to grow up

In new films, Kevin Smith and Ed Burns consider the virtues of maturity
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in The Weinstein Company's Clerks II - 2006
Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in The Weinstein Company's Clerks II - 2006The Weinstein Company
/ Source: Reuters

They broke out of the independent movie pack at the Sundance Film Festival in the mid-1990s as voices of Generation X, and a decade later writer/directors Kevin Smith and Edward Burns have something new to tell their peers: Grow up.

Smith’s new movie, “Clerks II,” hits theaters Friday, and Burns’ “The Groomsmen” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles with plans to roll out more widely in the coming weeks.

Smith’s film is a sequel to his 1994 comedy “Clerks” about two slackers working in a convenience store, and while Burns’ ”Groomsmen” is not a follow up, it will remind audiences of ”The Brothers McMullen,” his 1995 hit about three brothers dealing with love and family ties.

While far different in story and style, the films share key themes. New Jersey-native Smith, 35, and New Yorker Burns, 38, look at guys in their mid-30s who refuse to face adulthood.

Moreover, the movies join a growing list of works in pop culture, such as Christopher Noxon’s book “Rejuvenile,” that reflect a generation which, as it matured, took its childhood with it.

“It feels like our generation was given this bizarre, 10-year stay of execution of, like, you don’t have to become adults, necessarily. My father’s generation, there were no bones about it. You got a job. You had a family, and supported the family,” Smith said.

Burns’ take is a slightly different: “Our lives revolved around fun...and I think when you’ve been doing that for 10 or 15 years, the idea of giving it up is difficult,” he said. “If you don’t have kids, you probably don’t recognize the upside.”

Whatever the psychology, both said that after recent years of making less personal films, it was time to reach back into their own lives for stories about getting married, having kids and moving on.

“Clerks II” mini-mart co-workers Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) return to the spotlight. They now have weathered faces, bigger waistlines and jobs flipping burgers at Mooby’s fast-food restaurant. The movie takes place on Dante’s last day at work before he moves to Florida to get married and work for his father-in-law.

He is leaving Randal behind, but before he can go, life has a few surprises for the pair of childhood friends, including a performance by a sex worker specializing in bestiality.

“Clerks II” is filled with hallmarks of Smith’s past work: Rapid fire dialogue that offers insight into his generation’s thinking and rude jokes about farts, feces and having sex.

For years, Smith vowed not to make a sequel to the first film, and he denies “Clerks II” is merely an attempt to cash in on the notoriety of its predecessor. “Clerks” was a hit on video and spawned a comic book and an animated TV series.

“If I was going to try to make money, I would have made (big-budget movie) ‘The Green Hornet.’ I would have made, like, $5 million just to direct,” Smith said. “’Clerks” (II) whole budget was 5 million bucks,” Smith said.

Dusting off a scriptSimilarly for Burns, “Groomsmen” was a labor of love. It was derived from an old script he wrote after his 2001 ”Sidewalks of New York” and 2002 “Ash Wednesday” bombed at box offices. The original script aspired to be a mainstream Hollywood comedy, but Burns said he could not finish it because he was not good at broad Hollywood-style comedy.

He credits his wife, model Christy Turlington with whom he has two kids, for telling him to take the old script out, dust it off and “write the story you want to write.”

“Groomsmen” centers on one guy, Paulie (played by Burns), in a group of five high school buddies on New York’s Long Island who reunite for some male bonding before Paulie gets married to his pregnant girlfriend, Sue (Brittany Murphy).

Paulie is having second thoughts and, in fact, over the course of the week, his buddies all confess to being burdened with issues of adulthood they would rather not face. His cousin Mike (Jay Mohr), for instance, still lives with his dad and mows lawns for a living like he did in high school.

If “Groomsmen” sounds like it might be a typical beer-soaked comedy with guys visiting strip bars, it’s not. These five 30-somethings play softball and go out for quiet dinners. Instead of focusing on raunchy partying, Burns turns his attention to their personal issues, and what emerges is a human drama about men passing from boyhood to adult life.

“These are the movies I love as a moviegoer. Even though, they are few and far between these days, I still aspire to be that same kind of filmmaker I was,” he said. “I’ve matured, and I think the writing has gotten more mature.”