Shared cinematic universes have existed for a while, but they usually stayed in their respective cult circles. A well-known example is filmmaker Kevin Smith’s “View Askewniverse,” where some movies he made with his production company View Askew Productions — specifically Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, and the upcoming Jay and Silent Bob Reboot — take place in the same universe.
Even with its outdated references and tasteless jokes that did not age well (i.e. casual homophobia, sexism, etc.), the View Askewniverse is timeless. Part of this appeal stems from it being a time capsule of the 90s and early 2000s, but there’s so much more to these movies than nostalgia. Because compared to other coming-of-age films, Smith’s movies portray a relatable retelling of what it’s like to grow up.
Slacking Through Life
A defining feature of the View Askewniverse is its complete lack of ambition — a resigned mindset that’s all too common among those suffering from a quarter-life crisis, yet seemingly absent in other movies that also deal with early adulthood.
Where Reality Bites condemns indecisiveness, Mallrats sympathizes with 20-somethings who prefer to chill in a comic book shop to distract themselves from thinking about the next five years. Contrast 500 Days of Summer’s honest interpretations of young love that gets drowned out by an excess of forced quirkiness with the balance of raw emotions and petty arguments about Archie comics in Chasing Amy.
Smith’s movies may be crass and childish at times, yet they have an air of honesty, realism, and sincerity that’s sorely missing in more critically-beloved features that claim to tell the stories of an age group that’s infantilized on a regular basis. Free from any notions of self-importance, the people in the View Askewniverse bitch and get sarcastic about their heartbreaks and disappointments. Simply put, Smith perfectly captured the angst and joys of what it’s like to be a 20-something better than any other movie out there.
How to Adult
A common problem anyone above the age of 20 faces is the dilemma of choosing between their passions and fulfilling their elders’ expectations. And yet, movies supposedly made for struggling young adults have a tendency to portray being in your 20’s — something to be ashamed of, even if literally everyone experiences it.
The View Askewniverse offers a more understanding perspective, suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with laughing at farts when you hit your 30s as long as you’re working towards something meaningful. If St. Elmo’s Fire says that adolescence is eventually left behind for greener (more grown-up) pastures, Clerks II argues that retaining a sense of youthful immaturity is better than forcing yourself to conform to the socially accepted definitions of adulthood out of a misplaced sense of obligation.
Even the series’ more comedic entries — Mallrats, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back — make the case for retaining teen-like idealism, playfulness, and wonder, albeit on a meta-level. They may be shallow when compared to the series’ more dramatic installments — Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Clerks II — but they make an endearing plea to audiences to not take themselves and life too seriously.
The struggles and emotional baggage of adulthood are soul-crushing. When it gets too heavy, it’s not a bad idea to let loose once in a while. If that means going on a destructive trip to the mall with your best friend just as Brodie (Jason Lee) and T.S. (Jeremey London) did in Mallrats or following the footsteps of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) by going on a cross country road trip while high as a kite, then so be it.
Young at Heart and Fart
The ups and downs of getting older are honestly reflected through Smith’s characters in ways that other movies fail to do. Rather than using a 20-something’s underwhelming life as an opportunity to drop profoundly poetic truth bombs, Smith’s characters (and himself) curse out loud before getting drunk in the same way someone of that age would. Even the juvenile humor in the earlier movies makes some sort of nostalgic sense, because people I know (including myself) are guilty of using “gay” as a negative adjective before we learned how wrong we were, thus outgrowing such insensitivity to better ourselves.
The series even has something for those who are in their 30s or are at least on the way there. Instead of surrendering to society’s standards, the later View Askewniverse movies (especially Clerks II) ask viewers to never let the inner teenager in them die while working hard to make their dreams a reality. Smith may have made these movies with his fellow Gen-Xers in mind, but they reflect the same grievances and insecurities that anyone above the age of 20 is experiencing today.
Unlike other movies about early adulthood, Smith’s works have a relatable air of sincerity as opposed to a bloated atmosphere of self-importance. Instead of talking down to its audience, the View Askewniverse talks to and for them. This casual approachability is what makes Smith’s movies accessible even to those who grew up in a time where video rental shops are extinct. Nuances and obscure references aside, the immature yet meaningful jaded innocence of Smith’s characters are what give the View Askewniverse its lasting appeal and message. It’s through these movies that we can learn how growing up isn’t just about being a “proper” adult — it’s about retaining who you really are by being vulnerable and honest, all the while making the most out of your life by being excellent to others.
The View Askewniverse has no intention of scolding the awkward and directionless slackers who populate and watch its movies. Instead, it would rather hang out, drink beer, and make dumb jokes about genitals with them. And sometimes, a quick break from life is more than enough.
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