Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kevin Smith retrospective - CHASING AMY (1997) - Your mother is a tracer!

After the high profile flop of the 6 million dollar budgeted MALLRATS, Kevin Smith's next feature was a dialled back 250k drama called CHASING AMY. The limited budget may have caused producer Scott Mosier a head-ache but it enabled writer-director Kevin Smith to create a movie as funny as CLERKS but darker, more emotionally real, and more affecting. To this day, I think CHASING AMY is Smith's best film and also his most unique. It's his most profound and adult movie - the most bittersweet - the furthest away from the comic-book stylings of JAY AND SILENT BOB - and yet the movie most firmly embedded in the comic-book community. Once again, we're back to the paradoxes.

The movie could share the title of Simon Callow's autobiography, "Love is where it falls" - the story of a passionate friendship between a gay man and a straight woman. CHASING AMY is about a straight man called Holden (Ben Affleck) who has an affair with a lesbian woman called Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) invoking the jealousy of his apparently straight best friend Banky (Jason Lee.) The first half the film depicts Holden's attempt to persuade Alyssa to try a straight relationship. The second half depicts his attempts to reconcile himself with his best friend's feelings for him and his feelings of sexual inadequacy and latent prurience when confronted with Alyssa's sexual past. The movie shows real insight and bravery in dealing with slippery sexual (and indeed racial) politics. It has its moments of real emotional intensity - the declaration of love by Holden to Alyssa is beautifully written - but it also manages to avoid any mawkish sentimentality, especially in its brilliantly ambiguous ending. At the same time, the movie is as brutally, honestly funny as anything Kevin Smith has ever written - and best of all, the comedy is grounded in real life rather than relying on ludicrous and implausible situations.

For me CHASING AMY is the perfect Kevin Smith movie. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but we're laughing at real situations. It's emotionally involving without being hokey. It's speaks honestly about sex and love. And if Ben Affleck struggles at times with Kevin Smith's dialogue and the weight of the emotion he has to portray, this is more than compensated for by the strong central performances from Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee and from Dwight Ewell's scene-stealing supporting role as the camp, militant comic book creator, Hooper:

Hooper: Always some white boy gotta 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. Check this shit: You got cracker farm boy Luke Skywalker, Nazi poster boy, blond hair, blue eyes. And then you got Darth Vader, the blackest brother in the galaxy, Nubian god!
Banky Edwards: What's a Nubian?
Hooper: Shut the fuck up! Now... Vader, he's a spiritual brother, y'know, down with the force and all that good shit. Then this cracker, Skywalker, gets his hands on a light saber and the boy decides he's gonna run the fuckin' 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?
Banky Edwards: Intergalactic civil war?
Hooper: Gentrification! They gon' drive out the black element to make the galaxy quote, unquote, safe for white folks. And Jedi's the most insulting installment! Because Vader's beautiful black visage is sullied when he pulls off his mask to reveal a feeble, crusty, old white man! They tryin' to tell us that deep inside we all wants to be white!
Banky Edwards: Well, isn't that true?

CHASING AMY played Sundance 1997 and was released over the next few years. It won a Special Recognition prize from the National Board of Review, and Jason Lee and Kevin Smith won Independent Spirit Awards for their acting and writing respectively. It's available on DVD.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. But Stoogy your main objection seems to be that it was squirmy and cringe-inducing, which I think says more about your attitude to the material then how Smith handled the material!