Chasing Amy (1997), or A New Found Respect

28 09 2009

Kevin Smith is a man of surprising talent that is brought up in more circles than I care to list at the moment. He is the fan-made-good, the guy who grew up as a fanboy in Jersey and decided to be a part of the industry he fell in love with. Not to write a biography on the gentleman, but he has an interesting story. His films are often comedies that focus on everymen and everywomen, regular folk who are often human to a fault and full of insight into modern pop culture.

Up until 1997, though, Smith had usually made more adult comedies that focused on dialog-heavy scenes involving his characters shooting the shit. Chasing Amy was the film where he flirted with the serious and the dramatic. For the majority of the critical community, this was Smith’s finest hour and the dawning of him as a big name in the industry. But, as I’ve found out from the days before I lived in the comfort of the study in my Flying Fortress of Film Profundity, the majority of moviegoers don’t really care what high-minded FILM SNOBS have to say about movies, and they thought, and still think, that it sucked righteously compared to the rest of the Smith oeuvre.

I know this not only because I live and breathe in Texas, a state who, by and large, doesn’t really care about art unless it’s on a bottle of Natural Light, but also because I thought the very same thing about that movie. I last saw it when I was 16, a time when my intellectual growth could not even be measured and when I saw the seminal film Boogie Nights for the sole purpose of Julianne Moore nudity. In my hormonal haze, I found it to be slightly boring, unfunny, and lackluster compared to his first two films. I just saw Chasing Amy again today, though, and, looking at it as an adult (somewhat), I strongly urge all of you who saw it in your youth to watch it again. It’s a lot more than what I thought it was; it really epitomizes the extreme potential Smith has to offer insight into modern youth, contemporary American niche culture, and love in the 20th century.

It’s a romantic comedy that starts with two friends, Holden and Banky. They’ve been friends for as long as they can remember, and their shared love is comic books. They’re in the process of selling one they’ve made themselves called Bluntman and Chronic (for those who remember Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, this is the genesis of Banky’s dastardly scheme). At the comic convention they’re selling the comic at, Holden meets a girl named Alyssa who strikes his fancy. She likes him too, but not in that way; you see, Alyssa is a lesbian. Whuh-oh! Holden still thinks she’s the bee’s knees, though, and continues his advances with her, both as a friend and as a lover. Banky doesn’t like the idea, both out of a tinge of jealousy and for the simple fact that he feels they should be concentrating on their totally dope comic. But Holden is having none of it, and decides to try his luck with Alyssa to see if he can’t change her mind. An unexpected thing blooms between the two, and it’s sweet while it lasts, but Holden’s inability to cope with some of Alyssa’s past begins to cause a rift between them. Can Holden mend his broken friendship as well as his endangered relationship?

This is a movie that ages extremely well. I sat through all 113 minutes of Chasing Amy feeling like I had really watched something of value. It leaves the impression that this is not just a rom-com about trying to turn a lesbian the way a vampire would turn a human. It’s about the complexities of modern relationships, the danger of letting friends slip away, and the fear of letting something truly great fall through your fingers. And a lot of cock jokes, but what the hell? I still found it to be smarter than your average Smith film, and your average Smith film is far from insipid.

Chasing Amy, for good or ill, is probably the birth of Ben Affleck as a leading man. He plays Holden, the smitten lesbian-lover who can’t get Alyssa out of his head. There aren’t too many people who could have pulled this off, and I’ll admit that his nonchalance and charisma really pull this movie together. He’s very slick, and I found myself liking Affleck for the first time in a long time. Jason Lee plays his consummate nerdy, mouthy jerk character Banky, and it’s a role he was probably born to play. Not to say that Jason Lee is some sort of super-jerk in real-life, but he pulls off this natural arrogance that comes from a lifetime about knowing more about certain things than other people do. If I had to point out a weak link, it would probably be Joey Lauren Adams, who is the elusive Alyssa. She does a disservice to herself by not flaunting an inner confidence that I’ve seen from her in later works. Here, her confidence seems to be false, based on the dialog and the script more than in her performance. I wished Alyssa could’ve been stronger than she was, and that’s something that still bugs me after all these years.

But in the end, it’s about the dialog (because from an aesthetic standpoint the movie looks like shit, this is the movie’s strong suit). There are so many good lines, and it’s really a credit to Smith that he can come up with some of the most organic-sounding inorganic dialog I’ve ever heard. Some of my faves:

Banky: What is it about this girl man? You know you have no shot at getting her into bed. Why do you bother wasting time with her? Because you’re Holden fucking McNeil, the most persistent traveler on the road that’s NOT the path of least resistance.


Alyssa: I love you, I always will. Know that. But I’m not your fucking whore.


Alyssa: So you’ve never been curious about men?

Holden: Curious about men?

Banky: All every woman really wants, be it mother, senator, nun, is some serious deep-dickin’.


Indeed! In the end, Chasing Amy will not be remembered as the funniest Kevin Smith movie, his most endearing movie, or even the biggest disappointment to fans (i.e. Jersey Girl) It stands conspicuously out as somewhat of an oddity, but to me it stands out for a reason. It’s because Chasing Amy is his most emotional film, biting and raw like something that might have happened to Smith in real life (notice in the diner scene how sincere Silent Bob is). That’s what makes it so special; there are a lot of laughs, but more than anything there’s a lot of sincerity here, and I appreciate that so much more now as an adult. I give Chasing Amy 8 1/2 deep dickin’s out of 10. A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I have a movie in mind, but I’ll figure it out then! Just come back to me and I’ll promise you won’t be disappointed! Until then!