Film Retrospect - Summer of '97: Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy
by Barry Wurst
June 11, 2007
Die hard fans of the so-called View Askew universe have been with filmmaker Kevin Smith every step of the way and established themselves as stone cold devotees from Clerks to Mallrats. I was not one of those people, thank you very much. Honestly, I thought Clerks, while clever for what it is, was hugely overrated and I, like a lot of American critics, was a total snob to Mallrats and thought Smith's days were over. Ten years ago (in 1997), he made a film that not only demolished expectations of every critic (including this one) who had completely written him off, but was one of the best films of the year - Chasing Amy.
The early reviews on this one made it stand out - word was that the guy who made two movies that had record uses of the beloved "F-word" actually made a smart, challenging and potentially controversial comedy that adults would like, as well as unemployed, chain smoking Gen X'ers. The controversy came from the film's premise - a talented comic book artist with mid-level notoriety (Ben Affleck) falls in love with another comic book writer (Joey Lauren Adams) who is a lesbian and won't allow their relationship to escalate beyond intimate friendship… until she finds she loves him, too. The film, like just about everything Smith has written before and after, is not politically correct by a long shot and addresses the unpopular notion that someone who is firm in their sexual preference could "join the other team". This is usually followed by the argument that "well, he/she must not have really been straight/gay in the first place!" What Smith does, in actuality, is more daring and, stunningly, far more heartfelt. He is suggesting that Adams' Alyssa finds that, in her relationship with Affleck's Holden (a nice literary reference), she found true, genuine, selfless love that transcends sexual preference and stereotypes. This is an earnest, unapologetically romantic notion, and not something you'd expect to be portrayed with a straight face by the author of "snootchie bootches".
In short, the film's controversial premise works because, like real relationships, it is dealt with honesty and shown to be emotionally messy. Also, the film never falls into the clichéd trap of romantic comedies - there is no stupid misunderstanding that causes our lovers to split up for 10 minutes of screen time, followed by the obligatory best friend saying "Go to her, man! Go get her!!", with a climax of the male running to his girlfriend and having to make an embarrassing declaration in front of a crowd that "it was always you!" Fade to black, cue the end credits and Celine Dion song. No, this is not that movie. Following a moving build-up, the story takes a harsh turn towards jealousy, as Holden begins to question Amy's sexual past. This ultimately leads to a beauty of a scene where we get the back story on the film's title and witness a miracle of a relationship crumble. The big climax isn't sappy or romantic, but unexpected, even shocking (the living room scene is painful to sit through, because the performances are so note-perfect).
Here, in short, is a love story for people who hate romantic comedies. The film is wonderfully written, wrenchingly honest, and cleverly irreverent and never takes the easy way out with any of the hot button topics it breezily brings to the table. Did I mention that it's also piss-your-pants funny? It is, and Jay and Silent Bob (the Gen-X Rosencratz and Guildenstern, to be sure) have some of the biggest laughs in the movie. Yet, this one hits the brain as well as the heart.
Affleck and Adams have never been better, nor has Jason Lee, who's terrific as Holden's best friend and "tracer", who has a secret of his own. Walking out of this one I was stunned, at how funny, yet how powerful this film was. My sides ached from laughing, but I was honestly choked up. Finally, I'll admit that this film made me a big Kevin Smith from that day on. Congratulations, Mr. Smith - another cult member and lifelong fan of all in the universe that is Askew. Snootchie Bootches, indeed.