Chasing Amy Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Joey Lauren Adams

I love Chow Yun Fat... I just don't see him playing Batman.

Independent film-maker Kevin Smith redeems himself with this surprisingly original, mature and well-crafted romantic comedy. "Chasing Amy" is the third part of the "Jersey Trilogy", following on the success of "Clerks", the quintessential slacker movie that Smith made on a shoestring budget of $26,685, and the failure of "Mallrats", the $6.1 million fiasco that Smith apologizes for in the closing credits of CA.

I love these guys! They're like Bill and Ted meet Cheech and Chong!
Yeah, I kind of like to think of them as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet Vladimir and Estragon.
Yeah!... who?
Chasing Amy box art

Holden (Ben Affleck of "Good Will Hunting") and Banky (Jason Lee) are comic book artists who pen the "Bluntman & Chronic" series, the misadventures of a superhero duo that look suspiciously like the recurring Jay and Silent Bob characters of Smith's films. At a comic book convention, Holden meets the bubbly Alyssa (Smith's significant other, Joey Lauren Adams), another comic book artist who pens "Idiosyncratic Routine". After 'sharing a moment' playing a dart game in a bar, Holden is hopelessly smitten by her. However, to his dismay, during an outing to a bar whose patrons are predominantly women, he learns that Alyssa is lesbian. Yes, it's just your typical 'boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, and boy finds out girl is gay' kind of story.

There were no examples set for me in the world of male-female relationships. And to cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately half your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender... that just seems stupid to me. So I didn't.

The awkwardness of this unlikely pairing leads to an escalating set of complications for the couple. Banky, who is already overtly chauvinistic and homophobic, is disgusted by his friend's obsession with Alyssa and uses every opportunity to unleash his inappropriately boorish comments and opinions. Meanwhile, Alyssa's lesbian friends feel betrayed by her heterosexual dabbling-- "another one bites the dust" one of them bemoans. And perhaps what is the most difficult obstacle to overcome, Holden is troubled by his own selfish male pride, by which he focuses on Alyssa's past, blinding him to the Alyssa in the present.

You know, you should watch that. If you're going to get so bent out of shape, while playing the game, so much that you feel the need to curse the TV, try not to gay bash it... you're not that kind of guy. And don't call her a dyke... she's lesbian.

The production values are unexpectedly high in this pic, given that the entire four week shoot was budgeted at $221,000 (though some post-production work required for theatrical release required another $400,000-- but still a bargain). Though the direction is relatively straightforward and artless, it is in the writing where CA shines (which also made "Clerks" a lot of fun to watch despite its shoddy production values). With a gift for quirky dialogue like Quentin Tarantino, though funnier, Smith creates zany conversations that go off in unexpected directions. Among the conversations found in CA are a discussion on the homoerotic subtext of Archie comic books, the white imperialism of the "Star Wars Trilogy", and the occupational hazards of sex. However, he balances this profane pop-culture exposition with some truly touching and impassioned exchanges that convey the emotional states of the characters.

Always some white boy got to invoke the Holy Trilogy! Bust this! Those movies are about how the white man keeps the brother man down, even in a galaxy far far away. Jack this shit-- you got cracker farm boy, Luke Skywalker, Nazi poster boy, blond hair and blue eyes. And then you got Darth Vader, the blackest brother in the universe, Nubian guy.
What's a Nubian?
Shut the fuck up! Now Darth Vader, he's a spiritual brother, down with the force and all that good shit. And this cracker, Skywalker, gets his hands on a lightsabre and decides that he wants to run the whole fucking universe. Gets a whole clan of whites together, and they go and bust up Vader's hood, the Death Star! Now what the fuck do you call that?
Intergalactic civil war?
Gentrification! They go drive out the black element to make the galaxy quote unquote safe for white folks! And "Jedi" is the most insulting installment because Vader's beautiful black visage is sullied when he rips off his mask to reveal a feeble crusty-old white man! They're trying to tell us that deep inside, we all wants to be white!
Well, isn't that true?

One of the issues that Smith faced making this film was the charge of cultural misappropriation. Writing a film about the lesbian experience is a virtual minefield, especially if the writer happens to be a white male (and with a last name 'Smith' to boot). And making it funny... well, that's even more touchy. So how did Smith manage to write from the lesbian point-of-view without being one himself? The genesis of CA was actually, oddly enough, at a film festival with the chance meeting of Smith, his producer-partner Scott Mosier, and writer-actress Guinever Turner (star of the indie lesbian romance "Go Fish"). Playing off the friendship of Mosier and Turner, Smith banged out the script and had Turner serve as the 'cultural consultant' to ensure the writing was an accurate reflection.

Do you remember for one fucking second who I am?
So... I mean, you know, people change.
Oh, it's that simple!? You fall in love with me and want a romantic relationship and nothing changes for you... I just can't get into a relationship with you without having my whole fucking world in upheaval!
Listen, that's every relationship. There'll always be a period of adjustment.
Period of adjustment?! There's no period of adjustment, Holden! I am fucking gay! That's who I am! You think I can throw all that away 'cause you have some fucking crush?!

The most outstanding acting comes from Joey Lauren Adams, and I wouldn't be surprised if she makes a name for herself based on her performance in CA. With the looks of Cameron Diaz and the voice of Jennifer Tilley, Adams has an extensive dramatic range, highlighted by her spunky enthusiasm. Ben Affleck, a Smith regular, gives a competent performance, and his scenes with Adams have the spark of good chemistry. Jason Lee is perfectly suited as the comic foil, able to deliver his smart remarks with convincing panache. And if you thought the two television executives in the film look familiar, that's because they are Brian O'Halloran ("I'm not even supposed to be here!" Dante from "Clerks") and Matt Damon (currently seen in "The Rainmaker"), a long-time friend of Affleck.

Which one is going to get the $100 bill first? The male-friendly lesbian, the man-hating dyke, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny?
The man-hating dyke.
Good! Why?
I don't know.
Because the other three are figments of your fuckin' imagination!

"Chasing Amy" may be crass and downright perverse at times, but it is also a very touching, funny, and smart film, with a lot of more heart than your typical multi-million dollar romantic comedy. Smith's best so far.

How could you do all those things?!
Easily! Some I did out of stupidity, some I did out of what I thought was love! Good or bad, they are my choices and I am not making apologies for them! Not to you, not to anyone!

Images courtesy of Miramax Films. All rights reserved.

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