Debate has begun to rage, at least for me, over the move by Kevin Smith to drive out of the View Askew-niverse to take on his first major studio movie, A Couple of Cops (or possibly its original title of A Couple of Dicks). Ben Child, writing for The Guardian, wrote on the subject last week, at least partly-lamenting the move by the ‘one-time doyen of indie comedy’.
I would argue immediately that this is no sell out. Yes, its a big budget studio movie. Yes, he used to work within his own movie universe and will have to compromise on that. But, he is developing as a movie-maker. Clerks 2 and Zack and Miri Make a Porno both feature much more visual spark and maturity of writing than has been seen in previous years. His work on Zack and Miri in particular did indicate a shift into a new type of comedy. Still keeping in his verbose gross-out conversational style and blending that with the gutteral world of pornography, it may not have endeared him to the intellectual glitterati. But no doubt that he is developing and moving on. Working in Hollywood with a new producer and a commitment to learning and adapting could see Smith return to his muse-land with a greater degree of skill than ever before.
A better question that Child poses is whether the world needs Kevin Smith even more. His deconstructive dialogue on relationships, male insecurity and geekdom have been co-opted by the Apatow crowd which, unfortunately for Smith, has a stronger stable of performers than his troupe. Child points out too that the verbose language and constant deconstructive commentary has been taken further into the leftfield by the mumblecore crowd. It is a disturbing thought that perhaps Smith has become somewhat obsolete. His Evening With… series is very good but perhaps through there, and through his Smodcast and online obsession, is where his influence now lies.
Zack and Miri is one of his best movies, even employing one of the key Apatow players, seemingly with a view to both working with a like-minded comedian and also to tap into Seth Rogen’s box-office potential. It’s perhaps ironic that, as identified here, Apatow has made Smith’s Zack and Miri possible despite Smith influencing Apatow (something Smith agrees with). Maybe the casting of Rogen indicated his desire to shift closer to the mainstream but maybe, just maybe, there just isn’t any space for Smith anymore and those to have been influenced by him, notably in the Apatow crowd and in the mumblecore genre, have taken the place which may well have been his had he been braver earlier on. It would be a sad filmic world to me to see Smith, one of the best screenwriters of his whole generation, fall by the wayside when, in my opinion, he still has much to give.