Chasing Amy Review
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 91%
My rating: Full Price!!
When asked my favourite Kevin Smith film I’m always undecided. Is it the realistically depicted, simple tale of twenty-something shop workers housing some of the best multi-tonal humour that is ‘Clerks’, or is it the softer, quieter, more romanticised ‘Chasing Amy’, one of the only romantic comedies to truly touch realistic relationships and their outcomes. I honestly don’t know.
Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) are comic book artists, a writer and penciller, and an inker and colourist. While at a comic book convention, they meet Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), the writer of the comic "Idiosyncratic Routine." They spend the night at a club and Holden thinks he and Alyssa ‘shared a moment’, but discovers later that she is actually a lesbian. After a battle against her sexuality they finally enter a new frontier relationship. The conflict comes when Holden gets hung up on Alyssa's intense sexual past revealed by Banky’s bile-filled background checks on her. It focuses on themes of friendship and sexual jealousy similar to the undercurrents presented in ‘Clerks’.
This is barely a romantic comedy. It runs the fine line of drama and ‘dick and fart jokes’, but really doesn’t provide enough of these to pull the effect off. It’s a romantic drama, less a comic movie like the others, and more like a modern ‘The Notebook’. Only not bad. It has strong jokes, especially in the first five minutes when Hooper (Dwight Ewell) screams black rage, proclaiming ‘Star Wars’ as a white man’s means of keeping the brother man down. If you’re into Kevin Smith’s tropes you should be caught by this scene. However, the movie’s one fault is that this comedy is not maintained. There are jokes about being an inker and cross roads involving the Easter bunny but soon the comedy takes the back bench for drama and character development.
The story is about Holden and Alyssa and their struggling romance. It grows but eventually it must follow the three part rule of rom-com’s and go from good to bad. ‘Chasing Amy’ also represents bro-mance. It subtle, but Banky has undercurrents of suppressed homosexuality and when he discovers Holden and Alyssa naked on his couch he is terrified. Luckily this is very human, quite and contemplative, apart from some heightened emotions. When Banky drops his jug of milk in shock it is like any long time friend walking in on a similar scene.
I’ll back track a little though. This is one of the only romantic comedies I have seen that hasn’t adhered to the three act structure. It begins that way but real life drags it back to the believability. It plays like life and, like life, doesn’t end prettily. There is a feeling of pure reality, good and bad, to the extent that you think these might have been real conversations edited to remain hidden under celluloid and mixing. However, a bit of looking up and you find the script came out of Smith's real-life relationship with Adams. Still, if that man could take Joey Lauren Adams’ voice, especially when crying, then he’s a saint.
I really enjoy this film. It is one of the few non-cheesy or predictable romantic comedies. However, there is still a rather dire moment where there’s a thunder clap as Holden admits to Alyssa that he loves her. However, the rest of the scene plays out excellently, if slightly melodramatic.
Compensating this there is another scene where the out of world audience prompt works well during a hockey game when Holden quizzes Alyssa on her nickname; ‘Finger Cuffs’. The Hockey game escalates in violence to match them until a fight breaks out and the two explode. In the background there is the thump of a rising heart beat. It also helps that the guy on Holden’s right during the scene is the same actor who played the character that started the fight (Rick Derris from ‘Clerks’).
This movie was when the View Askewniverse had a place, not overused or spread thinly across the entire project. When it was still fresh. By ‘Dogma’ nobody gave a damn, by ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’ nobody respected it, and by ‘Clerks II’ it was just side lined. Here though, it is a nice link bridging the films. (Mallrats under the bridge of course.)
Still, the recurring theme of sex is a bit questionable. Sure the jokes are funny but every film has it: “you sucked thirty seven dicks!”, “Boregasm: A study of the 90’s male sexual prowess”, “Some sex!” Is poor Smith getting any?
Still he’s one of the big directors out there in the cult and niche markets. Makes you wonder though. Hitchcock had such a problem releasing ‘Rebecca’ because she is not the focus of the movie, but at least she is in the internal universe. Amy is just another quick word from Silent Bob.
Returning to View Askew, unlike his later attempts (and the insulting one in Mallrats), Silent Bob’s ‘one line’ seems significant this time around and is a nice side story. It also helps to enhance the downturn section in the second act. Sadly it’s backed by silly, overly dramatic music. But what can you say: all Kevin Smith movies have terrible music. The dramatic score gets the job done but there’s really nothing special here.
The same with cinematography. Smith never really features any interesting shots, not since Clerks anyway, but it’s perfectly serviceable for the genre.
This is not a movie for the average rom-com goer. This is not that satisfying ‘change’ movie. The lesbian doesn’t find the ‘right man’; it focuses on the reality that orientation sticks no matter how much you struggle. It was the first Kevin Smith movie I saw and thus was the first in a developing line of reasons not to enter a ménage á trios. I saw this at a young age and it made rom-coms since deeply unsatisfying and shallow.