Kevin Smith was known by the mid to late nineties as being a director that revelled in the corse and the profane, a connoisseur of toilet humour. It wasn’t until his 3rd film, 1997’s Chasing Amy, that Smith showed us some real depth to his undeniable talent.
Concerning the story of two friends who write and draw a popular comic book together, on the cusp of mainstream success with film producers at their door ready to turn their book ‘Bluntman & Cronic’ into a movie. The only problem is Ben Affleck’s character Holden’s head is not in the game as he has fallen badly for a contemporary, only, she is gay.
Chasing Amy gets many things right and a few massively wrong, the exuberant joy of reciprocated love and the beats that go with a new relationship are perfectly portrayed by Affleck & Joey Lauren Adams, the unspoken love between Banky & Holden being another, the absolutely wonderful, note perfect pastiche of the Jaws scar sharing scene between Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee is one of the film’s best scenes without doubt, also Smith’s ‘Chasing Amy’ speech in the diner is funny, revealing, heartbreaking and all to real to relate to on some small level. However, the central conceit that a gay person can just turn around and jump into a heterosexual relationship caused some consternation and more than a little incredulity. I do think Smiths heart was totally in the right place, he had a good story that he wanted to tell about two people just utterly getting each other, “complementing each other so completely” to paraphrase a quote from the film. Smith himself has even conceded the premise to be more than a little far fetched going as far as to describe Chasing Amy as a fantasy film in a tongue in cheek explanation of his motives for the film.
Pretty much the same point that everyone who watches Chasing Amy picks up is how much of a douche Holden is, particularly in the closing scenes of the film when he gives his proposition to Banky & Alyssa, like that is any kind of way of sorting out the emotional mess these characters find themselves in, essentially asking his girlfriend to sleep with his best friend. The first time I saw this film I’m pretty sure I shouted some expletives at the screen during that scene. It’s a credit to Smith that he made us care so much about these characters to elicit that kind of response.
The casting for Chasing Amy was incredibly on pointe, Ben Affleck’s cocky, self-assured Holden is a character I personally love to hate, there are more than a few times where you’d love to wipe his smug self-satisfied grin off his face. I’m not sure if Holden was supposed to be quite so unlikable but he really is, no fault of Affleck’s, he did a great job of bringing one of the biggest D-bags of Gen X cinema, in my personal opinion, to life. Joey Lauren Adams was a revelation as the smart, funny and eminently likeable Alyssa. In what must have been a strange set of circumstances for a film to shoot, Adams was in a relationship with Smith at the time of filming and parts of the content of the story were apparently based on experiences Smith had in a previous relationship, truly a sign of keeping a professional approach to your work, Adams utterly slays it. Jason Lee is basically playing the role he always seems to get cast in, the likeable, wiseass motormouth. Lee undoubtedly has some of the best lines in the film and he is clearly aware of it as he delivers them with so much gusto.
For all its faults, Chasing Amy is still without doubt Kevin Smiths finest film. It has genuine heart and a good natured humour at the core of its very human story. There is nothing that could be taken from the premise of this film as being malicious. It does its best at trying to fathom the ridiculous, illogical and infuriating nature of love and attraction in such a way that few directors would even have the stones to try and attempt and for that Kevin Smith deserves massive praise for this film.