Mallrats (1995)

Two men — young men — lose their girlfriends on the same day, for much the same reason. Both of the girlfriends thought that the men didn’t spend enough time with them, that they were too into their video games and comic books, and so on. These men, being “mature” college students, do what anyone their age would do: they head to the mall to hang out for the entirety of the day. Apparently, that’s what the girlfriends do, too, and so does everyone else who matters in each character’s life. This mall must really be an important place.

The men: T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee). The girlfriends: Brandi (Claire Forlani) and Rene (Shannen Doherty). The plot: the men will sulk and then eventually (1) try to get back with their girlfriends, (2) try to sabotage a game show which happens to be taking place that very same day and (3) meet Stan Lee. They also get to aimlessly wander the mall, see silly and weird events, and have intelligent discussions about topics which don’t require such levels of intelligence, because that’s what fanboys and nerds do.

I don’t mean that as a condemnation, but it’s how the film portrays them. Incredibly meaningful discussions take place over things that most people won’t even think about. Does the cookie shop on the second floor of the mall court as part of the food court, even if the rest of the food court is on the lower level? That’s the conversation that stood out to me. Being a Kevin Smith movie, the dialogue is lots of fun to listen to, and it sounds natural; you can tell that Smith has been there.

There are a whole host of wacky supporting characters for the leads to encounter as they hang out at the mall. It would be pointless to try to describe them all, especially because so many of them are used for a joke and then thrown away until we’ve forgotten about them long enough that the same type of joke will once again be funny. I’m not sure how successful that is. How enjoyable is it to watch one man stare at a poster for hours, looking for a hidden image, while passers-by look at the poster for a couple of seconds and see that very image?

Fans of Kevin Smith’s first movie, Clerks, will be happy to hear that two of the characters from that film return. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) are back, and they’re once again up to no good. Or, at least, they’re not for anyone but our heroes. They get some funny lines and actions but are far less memorable this time around, even if they might be more crucial to the plot. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but, to quote the least meaningful sports clich√©, it is how it is.

Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot to talk about when it comes to Mallrats, because it has little ambition, little to say, and simply wants to make us laugh and possibly believe in true love. Its characters idle around waiting for the plot to hit them, the jokes are there and relatively constant, and Smith remains a competent director and a pretty great writer. His dialogue and character moments remain the highlights, both in terms of showing truth on-screen and making the audience laugh.

Perhaps the problem with Mallrats is that, despite how much time we spend with the lead characters, they’re so juvenile that you kind of hope they don’t manage to win back the hearts of their girlfriends. One character tells T.S. that his ex-girlfriend can do better, and that’s correct. When we’re almost rooting against the protagonists, this puts us in a rather awkward position. It diminishes any drama and makes the film unenjoyable to watch, especially without any character growth to change our opinion.

And there’s none of that in this movie. Apart from the artificial “growing up” that the two men do — which feels forced and comes mostly from out of nowhere — there’s no development or depth to anyone in the picture. It’s like Smith came up with some characters, possibly based on either himself or people he knew/knows, but couldn’t imagine how they should grow so he left them alone to aimlessly wander the mall. I get that it’s one day in their lives, but a lot of change can occur in one day.

Mallrats is a funny little film about a couple of nerds who break up with their girlfriends and then try to win back their hearts, all while spending a day wandering the local mall and encountering silly supporting characters. It’s enjoyable but it does little to make you feel, think, or even care. It’s not boring, mind, but it’s not especially worth seeing, either. The laugh-per-minute ratio is fine, and if that’s all you’re looking for you won’t be disappointed, but if you want a film with a little more meat on its bones, you’ll want to search somewhere else.

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