May 1, 2015

Alternative to What: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001)

Left to right: Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
- Alternative To -
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Let's put it this way: you are going to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron no matter what anyone says about anything. In fact, it would even be uninspired to suggest a superhero film that is even on par and even lazier to just say to watch The Avengers for the millionth time. There's no clear great selection for this week's selection that isn't simply obvious. That is, until I suggest that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is quintessentially what this weekend's new release is, but in a far more clever and interesting scenario. The immediate question is how I could even get away with thinking that, especially as its titular leads get by on getting high and telling dirty jokes. However, that is to complicate the issues here.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is essentially a film that combines the world building elements of Kevin Smith's filmography up to that point. While it isn't distracting, there's a lot of references and cameos from characters in his other films from his debut Clerks to an appearance from the God of Dogma. Among them all is Jay and Silent Bob; the two drug dealers who got by on making a cameo in all of them and even stealing the show in some cases. They are the id of the film, choosing to counterbalance Smith's characters full of existential conflict with rude humor and a lack of pretension. They are like The Avengers in that they got their own movie to team up with everything for one of the crazier road trip movies of the early 00's.
The film's general conceit is to be Smith's ode to meta comedy and stoner humor. The odd reality is that Jay and Silent Bob live in the real world and consume pop culture much like its viewers. However, their world is also a little heightened and fictionalized to address conflicts such as unnecessary sequels and copyright management. There's also dozens of celebrity cameos and plenty of people making fake sequels to real films. To fully appreciate this film is to have a strong understanding of Hollywood at the turn of the millennium. 

One of the big differences between Jay and Silent Bob and the remaining films of Smith's early filmography is that it drops societal commentary for an excessive exploration of stoner humor. Depending on if this appeals to you, it can be considered the director and writer's funniest movie and also one that is a celebration for the fans. If you are loyal to his work, you'll have plenty to admire and while it lacks the depth of his other work, it definitely isn't shy on the joke quotient. It provides all of the aspects that you'd expect from a movie centered around two New Jersey stoners who don't know much better than peddling their product and singing music from Purple Rain.
While there's debate on if Smith has been great since, it is interesting to notice the ambition that he brought to the low ambitions of his early work. He was a lifelong comic book fan who turned the formula on its head by making his characters interact in the same environment and even has occasional crossover and running gags. It is a notion that makes further sense when consulting The Avengers: Age of Ultron and realizing that that film took years to establish its own continuity and character regime. Smith did the same and for the most part, save for Clerks II and whatever other sequels he's making next year, he hasn't been to the well that much. 
So while it may be a far stretch to suggest a movie that features two drug dealers as a recommendation for a superhero blockbuster, it makes sense in theory. This is an example of a film that is thematically similar though not necessarily the same. Those are usually the funnest to try and convince others to see. I don't know if younger audiences will be as quick to flock to it nor do I think it is a strong point to start at in the Smith filmography, but it definitely holds its own in terms of world building in a landscape that hasn't been that often associated with it. For that alone, I recommend checking it out and having a great counterbalance to your big budgeted spectacle this weekend.

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