Chasing Amy (1997)

3 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Kevin Smith is a great screenwriter—he doesn’t just write dialogue; he creates characters that actually have something interesting to say. His characters are quirky, three-dimensional, and fun and when they talk, it feels like regular everyday people talking. Even Smith realized this when he tried to create an action comedy with slapstick and special effects in his less-than-successful 1995 film “Mallrats.” In fact, he even calls himself a horrible director and actor, but a great writer. He’s better off writing—his direction is not special in a certain sense. But with his movies, we don’t really care because his direction lets the characters breathe and talk through his writing. He did it with his debut “Clerks,” a low-budget comedy, directed by him, with a fantastic script, written by him. Then when “Mallrats” was released, it was such a disappointment that during the screening for his next movie “Chasing Amy,” Kevin Smith even apologized for it. And in the end credits of “Chasing Amy,” this quote is used—“And to all the critics who hated our last flick—all is forgiven.”

“Chasing Amy” is linked with “Clerks” and “Mallrats” with some of the writer/director’s trademarks like pop culture references (discussions of “Star Wars”) and a touch of “Jaws” (in “Chasing Amy,” two characters discuss their scars…from what, I won’t give away). It also has raunchy and vulgar humor and here, it almost goes a little overboard with its frankness of sex. But I have to give credit for not wimping out during these discussions, especially when the main male character asks how the main female character, who is a lesbian, is able to have sex with women. Some people may laugh out loud—others may cringe. But there are many other big laughs, great surprises, and a heart that comes along in the midst of this story.

The premise of “Chasing Amy” may sound like another dumb sex comedy, but Smith handles it more intelligently than you could possibly imagine. Two comic book artists—laid-back Holden (Ben Affleck) and his brash roommate Banky (Jason Lee)—are signing autographs at Comic Con for their latest creation—a comic book about stoner superheroes called “Bluntman and Chronic.” They meet another comic book artist—a woman named Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams)—and Holden has a crush on her. But then he finds out that she’s a lesbian. But even though she’s gay, he falls in love with her and tries to have a loving relationship with her. This premise may sound confounded, but it’s handled so maturely that you have congratulate Smith for creating something so fresh.

I mentioned above that the characters are fun to watch and that they talk like regular people rather than characters—even though they are playing characters—and they do. Holden and Banky create comic books—what do I know about comics? Very little. But it’s great to listen to these guys talk about their work because that’s what they love doing. These characters are so well-developed. I loved the relationship that Holden and Banky have as great friends (although for Banky, it may be a little more). And then there’s the discussions Holden has with Alyssa (sometimes, Banky has his own conversations with her). This is the heart of the movie. Watching these two talk and relate to each other is great to watch and fun to listen to. These two have great chemistry together. But then there comes the more serious scenes which are even better. Holden tells Alyssa that he loves her in one scene and Alyssa doesn’t have a clue about how to respond. Is it possible for her to have second thoughts on her sexuality? Could Holden have a chance with her? One of the very best things about “Chasing Amy” is how unpredictable it is. If you can answer those questions right away, I bet you would be only close but with very little dice.

The script is full of wonderful dialogue. There’s a supporting character—a gay black man named Hooper (Dwight Ewell)—who has a whole speech about racism involved with the “Star Wars” trilogy and his own opinions on the sexuality of Archie and Jughead. And then there’s Jay and Silent Bob, returning from “Clerks” and “Mallrats” and played again by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith himself, who has their own conversation with Holden. Once again, Jay is a foul loudmouth who can’t shut up. But here’s a surprise—Silent Bob finally opens up and gives his own speech about who the titular Amy was and why she was worth chasing. And also, have you ever wondered what lesbians thought about sex and virginity? Well, those discussions are here too.

“Chasing Amy” is one of Kevin Smith’s best films—funny but also intelligent. When it gets into serious mode, we are brought right into it. We believe everything that is happening on screen because it is handled so maturely and delicately. It’s helped by a fantastic script, a touch of comedy, drama and romance, and its ensemble of great actors. Ben Affleck, who plays Holden, is a nice guy for us to follow, Jason Lee goes as far as he can go with Banky without making him so obnoxious that he’d be unwatchable, and Joey Lauren Adams, who is a real discovery, embodies a really complicated character who is forced to think about her own self and creates a surprising amount of range and wit. Minor missteps for this movie can be forgiven and so can Kevin Smith for “Mallrats.”

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