Chasing Amy (1997)

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I, like many others, remember a time when Ben Affleck was not Batman, or someone constantly in prestige projects. The first time I ever saw Ben Affleck in a movie was when I was much younger, in Jersey Girl (a film that has received a fair share of critical hatred – but I thought it was actually pretty great, and it is something the great Roger Ebert agreed with). Jersey Girl was directed by Kevin Smith (a filmmaker I grow to love more and more with every passing film of his that I watch). Chasing Amy is a great film, and while it does not possess the narrative highs of his previous masterpiece Clerks, it is still a brilliant film overall, and one that shows that Smith is a director with a singularly unique vision and a lot of talent.

What I love about Kevin Smith is that he is a genre chameleon – he has directed everything from lighthearted comedy to bleak horror. However, many filmmakers do that – so what makes it so remarkable when Smith tries different genres? He does it on his own terms – he inserts such unique creativity into his films, and sometimes even bends the genre to his own will. Of course, he is not a filmmaker who wants to make something that has been done before – and you have to admire him for taking risks so much throughout his career. To cut a long story short, Chasing Amy is Kevin Smith’s attempt at a romantic comedy – and I use “romantic” in the most loose sense of the word, because Chasing Amy may seem like a romantic comedy – but it is anything but romantic – yet it is still framed as such, which is truly very strange, but just part of the genius of Kevin Smith, and simply another reason why independent cinema is so great – because it can be manipulated without any serious repercussions or the audience being somewhat disillusioned.

Kevin Smith’s earliest films always seem to be autobiographical to an extent, even if only at the primordial level. Chasing Amy is about Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and his friend, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), two highly successful comic book artists living and working in New Jersey, who have created a hugely successful graphic novel series known as Bluntman & Chronic. One day, at a comic book convention, Holden encounters Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), a very talented but hardly as successful graphic novelist herself. Holden finds himself falling deeply in love with Alyssa – but soon discovers that Alyssa doesn’t feel the same way about him – or any man, really. However, that doesn’t hold Holden back from attempting a romantic relationship with her – nor does it stop her giving Holden a chance. What occurs is a deeply controversial and almost completely politically incorrect discussion about society and the LGBT community. Smith is not trying to say there is a way to “cure” sexuality, but rather the way some people actually do believe there is a way to change who you are – and whatever your stance is on the issue is entirely up to you, and Smith leaves it to the audience to decide what the natural resolution to this answer is.

I will not dare go into the social discussion surrounding Chasing Amy. It is a film, not a piece of social literature that should be thought of too deeply. As a film, it is wonderful. Ben Affleck is actually a very good actor when he puts in the effort (which he hasn’t been doing lately, let’s be perfectly honest – his best efforts are going towards his directorial achievements). Here, he does have many weak moments, but he overall holds his own and does a pretty good job of making Holden a compelling character. The titular “Amy” (whose name is actually Alyssa – but the explanation for why the film is called Chasing Amy is explained in a memorable cameo from two very familiar slackers), is played by Joey Lauren Adams, who is actually one of the unfortunate few people from Smith’s films that remain only in his universe and haven’t branched out too far into the world of the mainstream. However, frankly Adams, while good, is also slightly uneven, and at times she seems to be trying to channel her inner Renée Zellweger. However, Affleck and Adams have fantastic chemistry, and do a fantastic job playing off the other’s strengths and covering up their weaknesses by their utilization of Smith’s wonderful dialogue.

The star of this film, without any doubt, is Jason Lee. Lee has been someone who benefitted quite a bit from his involvement in the View Askewniverse, and playing the memorable and scene-stealing Banky here, Lee is tremendous. Funny, bitterly nasty and an absolute riot, he also brings a sense of gravitas to the film. I would have love to see this character extended a bit further in the film, or perhaps even have his own spinoff film (a tall order, I know – and I doubt it will ever happen). However, simply as a character in this film, he does a fantastic job of averting the focus of the film from the Affleck/Adams storyline and adding his own unique elements to the plot. Lee is quite simply fantastic, and even if his career is not at the place it should be, it is still tremendous that he managed to give such a great performance here (and here is hoping he will find something as good as My Name is Earl again soon).

I love cinematic universes (and so do movie studios these days, let us not kid ourselves), and Smith has created his own, that truly rivals that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe (let’s rather not go into what Smith said about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which actually starred his buddy). The View Askewniverse is really fantastic, and the best part is that it is subtle – the rest of the films are not vital to this film – but if you have seen them, there are some small hidden jokes and references that seem funny without context, but within context of the universe, they are absolutely hilarious. Smith hasn’t made a film in the View Askewniverse in a decade, and I really hope he fast-tracks the process to Clerks III, because it is about time – and if I may be perfectly honest, they are what he does best.

I loved Chasing Amy. It was such a unique and refreshing look at the romantic comedy genre. It does threaten to go into dangerously politically incorrect waters a lot of the time, but lurking just beneath the cynical exterior is a deeply moving and really entertaining comedy-drama, and just further proof that Kevin Smith is one of our most undersung heroes of cinema. A great film, and one that I hope he returns to making soon.

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