Monday, February 22, 2010

"Fly fatass, fly!" The Confessions of a Kevin Smith Fanboy

It is March 2003. A flabby teenage boy is dropped off by his father at the Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota. He is just a few days shy of his sixteenth birthday. He wears the shirt worn by the lead character from the movie Mallrats. He has come here to see his idol: filmmaker Kevin Smith.

The auditorium is packed. The boy feels overwhelmed and isolated by the mass of college students and Gen X-ers. He takes his seat, but is soon alerted by the PA that those wishing to ask Mr. Smith a question should form lines down the aisles of the auditorium. The boy wastes no time and rushes to the very front of the line forming nearest to him.

The boy has seen every one of Smith's movies, he owns them all on DVD. He has read every one of Smith's comic books. He is prepared. Wow. I can't believe I'm really going to get to talk to Kevin Smith!

Smith comes onstage. The auditorium erupts into hysterical applause. Smith thanks them for coming and offers a brief anecdote about his love for the great state of Minnesota. The audience laughs at his jokes and applauds his mention that he filmed Mallrats at the local Eden Prairie Center.

The boy's palms sweat profusely. A lump the size of a large amphibian forms in his throat.

Smith asks for the first question. He looks directly at the boy. The boy feels as if the eyes of a god are upon him; the gaze piercing his flesh and reading his very thoughts.

"You sir," Smith says. "What's your question?"

The exact words uttered by the boy are lost to history, but scholars believe it to be something relating to an appreciation for the recently-released film Daredevil and a commendation for Smith's "Guardian Devil" arc in the titular superhero's comic book. Smith thanks the boy. The boy then asks about the possibility of a Daredevil sequel, having recently heard a rumor that Ben Affleck would only reprise the role if Smith were to write the script. The boy also inquires about the possibility of using elements of "Guardian Devil" in the possible future sequel: perhaps an inclusion of Matt Murdock's crisis of faith and the appearance of Spider-Man villain Mysterio.

Smith asks "You're a big Daredevil fan, aren't you?"

The boy responds with the affirmative. He is a big Daredevil fan.

Smith ponders this. "You do pretty well with the ladies, don't you?" he says. The crowd laughs. "I mean, I've done alright in my time..." Smith gestures to his own sizable girth with his hands. "...but they must be all over you."

The boy has been insulted by his hero in front of an audience of hundreds, maybe thousands. He can do nothing but laugh. It has been an honor, sir.

Smith apologizes for his crack at the boy's weight and answers his question concerning Daredevil. No, there are no plans for a sequel yet; the movie has been out for about a month. No, I probably won't be involved. No, "Guardian Devil" will probably not figure into it if it ever happens.

The boy thanks Smith for his answer. Smith thanks the boy for his question. The boy takes his seat. A bittersweet smile adorns his face.

I have just been called a fat fanboy by Kevin Smith: King of the Fat Fanboys.

If you couldn't figure it out, that teenage boy was me, age fifteen years and I was seeing Kevin Smith give one of his patented talks that he's now become so famous for. In my younger, high school days, Kevin Smith was my object of worship. He was my absolute favorite filmmaker and as far as I was concerned, my own personal screen avatar. He was the first writer-director I ever became obsessed with, the first screen artist whose work I would follow. He made me a movie buff years before I would ever care about film in general. I watched every featurette, listened to every commentary, followed every rumor and bit of Internet news about his upcoming films. Kevin Smith made me the man I am today.

Now of course, this was a long time ago: Smith and myself have both grown and evolved in our own special ways, for better or worse, and it might be hard for a casual observer to note the differences and the ways we've changed. The Smith of 2003 is not the Smith of 2010, just as the Boivin of 2003 is not the Boivin of 2010.

About a year after my fateful encounter with the artist, his career took something of a nosedive and altered course, perhaps irreversibly. His 2004 film Jersey Girl bombed horribly and became a commercial and critical pariah. This is best blamed on the fact that the era saw the loathsome heights of the Bennifer phenomenon and the simple fact that Jersey Girl was a near-complete change of tone for Smith, not to mention a paint-by-numbers family comedy as opposed to the raunchy stoner/geek outings of his earlier career. Jersey Girl, a deeply personal expression of Smith's own feelings of fatherhood (it was dedicated his recently deceased father and was inspired by the birth of his daughter Harley Quinn- best/nerdiest name for a kid ever) became an something of an albatross around Smith's professional neck, a burden he continues to bear to this day. Whenever someone needs to chide the man, they need simply shout "Jersey Girl!".

Take a moment to consider that whenever someone shouts "Jersey Girl" at Kevin Smith, it's a vicious insult, but whenever somebody shouts it at his fellow Garden Stater Bruce Springsteen, it's out of love.

The post-Jersey Girl years have seen a general consensus form that Smith has become an obsolete relic of the mid-90's period of Miramax indie dominance. He has seen a genre he helped to define, the "man-children make vulgar pop culture references and complain about their station in life" film, usurped from him by young Turks like Judd Apatow. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with my younger brother and his friends where I've recommended Clerks only to be welcomed with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin was funnier."

Indeed, Smith is something of a dinosaur by modern Hollywood standards. He came onto the scene in 1994 in the same class of Weinstein-guided auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and achieved notoriety and adoration by pioneering the burgeoning practice of interacting with fans on the Internet, making posts and answering questions on the forums of his website. As was told in the story that opened this post, Smith also has a successful practice of going to colleges and theaters around the country on a pretty regular basis, displaying his talents as a raconteur and artiste with an above-average accessibility to his fans. These talks, collected on a series of DVDs, are really damn funny. Just check this one out, where he answers at length about his involvement with Tim Burton's aborted 90's Superman reboot.

Kevin Smith was social media-ing all over the place while Twitter and Facebook were just gleams in their fathers' eyes.

Smith has always seemed to keep himself buoyant on an odd combination of both irrational love and irrational hate from fans and critics and in the chaotic era of the Internet's ascendancy, his willingness to interact with his fans and detractors was novel. It even served as something of a macguffin for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

But now, when every goddamn celebrity has numerous means of promotion on the Internet, Smith is hardly exceptional. Of course, he tweets like a motherfucker and has a weekly podcast with his longtime producer Scott Mosier, but his high level of accessibility is no longer so special in this day and age.

His most recent movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno seemed like an attempt to ape the Apatow brand's stranglehold on American cinematic comedy of the past half-decade, featuring Apatow regulars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in the title parts and a supporting turn by Craig "Darrel From The Office" Robinson. However, it performed below expectations at the box office (though it did turn a profit in the end) and left Smith feeling somewhat crestfallen.

Perhaps Zack and Miri's perceived failings are why Smith has turned to his newest project, Cop Out (opening this Friday!). Originally bestowed with the borderline brilliant title "A Couple of Dicks", Cop Out is a buddy cop comedy of Lethal Weapon proportions starring the wackily mismatched duo of Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. This marks the first time that Smith has directed a film from a script he didn't write, it may therefore be the most dramatic departure of his career. He's clearly playing it safe and distancing himself from his status as a cult filmmaker and attempting to move into more commercially viable territory; TV spots for Cop Out have been raiding the airwaves non-stop since the Super Bowl and none of them mention Smith's involvement.

What does the future hold for Kevin Smith? That will probably depend on the success of Cop Out. The press gained by Smith for his recent Twitter fisticuffs with Southwest Airlines over his being ejected from a flight for being too fat (a misunderstanding to have him tell it) probably won't hurt Cop Out's chances. Then again, they might have just reminded everyone that the movie was directed by Kevin Smith.

In terms of projects further down the pipeline, Smith has begun making plans for a movie based on the Warren Zevon story song "Hit Somebody!", the ballad of a hockey enforcer with dreams of scoring goals. This sounds like it has the potential to be Smith's latter day opus; he's a lifelong hockey fan and the sport has currents through literally every one of Smith's movies. He's also announced ambitious plans to make a fan-financed horror movie called Red State that probably won't happen because of the logistics of getting fan donations from Paypal, but it certainly would be cool to see happen, even if only to fuck over the current state of "independent film".

Kevin Smith has had a storied career of professional ups and downs, and for better or worse I still remain a fan of his. Perhaps not as rabid as those heady, pre-Jersey Girl days, but a fan nonetheless. I wish him all the best with Cop Out and plan on seeing it this weekend; even if he did call me a pathetic fatass in front of a massive audience. He's made a career out of doing the same thing to himself, therefore I consider it a compliment.