Chasing Amy (1997)

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. There are complications, as usual, but not the usual complications. This girl is a lesbian. When she says she just wants to be friends, she *really* means it.

The unlikelihood of love has been the jumping off point for many a romantic movie, whether it be a comedy or a multiple-kleenex sudser. *Chasing Amy* is a little bit of both, with a modern twist.

Holden (Ben Affleck) and Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) are both comic book artists, both scruffy cute Gen-Xers, both from New Jersey. When they meet at a comics convention, Holden instantly falls for Alyssa. Like any dutiful puppy in love, he follows her to a lesbian club in Manhattan, his best buddy and writing partner Banky (Jason Lee) in tow. There, to Banky’s delight, Holden discovers the awful truth about the girl of his dreams.

Friendship follows, then love, then separation, as Holden discovers that the truth is even more awful than he ever imagined. In spite of its odd characters and knotty, unconventional relationships, there’s a lot about *Chasing Amy* that is extremely conventional. Much of the humor derives from the sheer shock value of hearing someone actually saying, out loud, things that are not spoken of in polite company. Writer-director Kevin Smith (*Clerks*) is far from polite, as usual, and pound for pound, his dialogue is the crudest and dirtiest around, featuring extended riffs on oral sex, gay sex -- in general, sex. But outrageousness aside, the thoughts expressed by the characters in *Chasing Amy* are, by and large, fairly orthodox as they try to comprehend lifestyles they can’t quite understand. Homophobia, heterophobia, jealousy, curiosity and titillation -- the veneer of ultra-hip sexual liberation barely conceals the fact that this is really just good old fashioned missionary position middle America speaking (although these particular kids all blame their hang-ups on Catholic upbringings).

Smith has it both ways in *Chasing Amy*, on the one hand looking askance at the misanthropic, homophobic macho frat boy posturing of his characters, having a little fun at their expense, while wringing most of his laughs out of their potty-mouth raunchiness. Smith wallows in the hetero male fascination with lesbians that is frequently exploited in movies. The difference is that the lads in *Chasing Amy* freely admit, and rather proudly, that they get off on it. Unlike the single-minded boy’s club atmosphere of *Clerks*, however, *Chasing Amy* also includes an element of swoony romanticism, and a few decidedly Hallmark moments. Smith’s own on-screen alter-ego, the taciturn Silent Bob (a fixture in *Clerks* and *Mallrats*) turns out in *Chasing Amy* to be a mushy romantic at heart, while his constant companion Jay (Jason Mewes) remains the apoplectic, sex-obsessed spewer of raunchy spiels. They represent the opposing sides and sentiments of the movie -- crudely, distastefully hilarious, and rainbow sappy.

Yet for all the adolescent banter and sentimentality, *Chasing Amy* is the most emotionally mature work Smith has produced to date. There are agonizing moments of raw, real emotion and excruciating stupidity, insensitivity and confusion. Holden and Alyssa really struggle with their relationship, their friends, and themselves. *Chasing Amy* fixes its focus on sexual politics and love at their messiest, as problems for the heart and mind, and it wrestles with the double standards and foibles (all male, naturally) that can undermine even true love.

Smith’s style of writing is arch and verbose, showy and unapologetically indecent. His characters talk and talk and talk. And then they talk some more. The talking is interspersed with more talking, the occasional rant, the prolonged spiel. It is diametrically opposed to the current action-bloated arcade-style embraced by Hollywood, where a three word speech is the ideal and four words is considered too long. You will never hear someone talk, non-stop, for minutes on end in such a movie, but you’ll hear it in *Chasing Amy*, where the speech and the spiel are everything.

All that chatter is a challenge for the actors, and they rise to it most of the time. Adams is particularly effective as Alyssa, an unlikely combination of baby voice and cutie-pie-verging-on-sultry-blonde looks. The most emotionally wrenching scenes of *Chasing Amy* belong to Adams, and she handles them with ease. Affleck’s laid back Holden is often overshadowed by his flashier friends, Banky, Jay and Silent Bob, and especially Hooper (Dwight Ewell), a scene-stealer as a gay black man posing as a militant white-hater.

The ideas in *Chasing Amy* aren’t entirely revolutionary -- at heart this is a fairly standard boy-meets-girl love story. Smith’s voice is unique, however, and you won’t hear anything remotely like his dialogue anywhere else. As a filmmaker, he also has tremendous patience, allowing scenes to go on and on and on, taking a circuitous path to the payoff, be it an insight or a laugh.