There are certain movies that popped up at a time in my life when I was forming an idea of who I was going to be. Surprisingly, that was in my first couple of years of university. Who would have seen that coming? Empire Records. Dazed and Confused. Desperado. These were all films I watched in my early post-secondary days that definitely had an impact on me. And there were others.
This was the second movie from director Kevin Smith, a man now more famous for being a comic book geek and touring speaker than a filmmaker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Mallrats is a romantic comedy of sorts that follows T.S. Quint and Brodie Bruce as they deal with their recently ended relationships. The plot takes place primarily at the mall and can basically be described in Abed terms as a “bottle episode.” There’s actually not a lot more substantial than that to the plot.
Mallrats did not receive the critical acclaim that Clerks did and was a box office flop. But once it hit home video, it achieved cult classic status, becoming a favourite among comic book aficionados. But why?
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The first reason is Stan Lee. If you don’t know who Stan Lee is then you haven’t been paying attention to movies and TV in the past decade. He’s the old guy that has a cameo in virtually every Marvel movies but he’s also one of the creators that built the company and the characters in it alongside greats like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. There’s some that choose to argue his contributions but now’s not the time for that. Mallrats is the first movie I remember seeing Stan “The Man” Lee in and that moment would have an impact on anyone into comics. This is comic book a legend in a Hollywood movie. How often did that happen in that era?
The second reason comic book types follow Mallrats is because of Brodie Bruce. Played by Jason Lee, Brodie is a highly opinionated, loud mouthed, video game playing, comic book fanboy, whether he wants to admit it or not. Believe me when I say it’s easy to relate to a character like that when you grew up reading comics in a small town and had just moved to a larger city for the first time.
One of the main reasons this movie was such a commercial/critical failure and a cult classic is that you have to be a comic book geek to get a lot of what’s going on in it. There’s scene in the movie where Brodie crosses paths with Stan Lee in the mall. Stan gives him advice about his relationship problems but not until he answers a series of inane comic book character questions. Anybody who reads comic books has dreamt of having serious one-on-one time with Stan Lee. Even his haters want to sit down with him and would be giddy at the opportunity.
It’s also a pretty mundane romantic comedy, contributing to its box office failings. If you take away Brodie, Stan and a couple of other oddballs, then you’re left with the same romantic comedy you’ve seen before. It’s decently executed but there’s nothing innovative about the story.
Ultimately, you’re watching for Brodie and the absurdities he spits out. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Overall, Mallrats is still funny and holds up to the days when I first watched it back-to-back-to-back with Dazed and Confused and Empire Records.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.