Chasing Amy (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

"And to all the critics who hated our last flick -- all is forgiven."
-- Chasing Amy's closing credits

Well, I didn't exactly hate Mallrats, but I thought it was a comedown for Kevin Smith, the talented writer/director who debuted strongly with 1994's Clerks. Chasing Amy is the third film in Smith's so-called "New Jersey Trilogy" (a series that may end up having more than three entries), so named because most of the action takes place in the Garden State. Like Clerks, but unlike Mallrats, principal photography took place in Smith's home town, as well as across the river in Manhattan.

Chasing Amy fits in nicely with the director's previous two films. As in Clerks and Mallrats, there are numerous references to pop culture (the ubiquitous Star Wars films, comic books, the Archie comic strip, TV shows Alice and Star Trek, and even a few in-jokes related to Clerks). Smith's brand of bawdy humor is also very much in evidence, although it should be noted that Chasing Amy isn't as hilarious as Clerks. In fact, it could be argued that this film isn't even as funny as Mallrats. Instead, Chasing Amy finds other ways to satisfy its audience, and the result is the most complete and mature film of Smith's short career.

With Chasing Amy, it's easy to anticipate a certain degree of inventive humor, but what's a bit unexpected is the solid drama, effective romance, and strong characters. Clerks worked because the dialogue sparkled, but Smith has honed his screenwriting and film making skills since then. While Chasing Amy boasts the same keen interplay, that quality, along with first-rate character development, acts as a supplement to the smart, surprisingly original plot. The movie starts out as light as a feather, but it doesn't take long for us to realize that Chasing Amy isn't just another lark for Smith. This movie is about something, and the deeper we get into it, the more we realize how emotionally on-target the script is.

Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) are comic book authors. Their Bluntman & Chronic magazine is a big-seller, and, when they attend a comic book convention in New York, they attract long lines for autograph signings. At that convention, Holden meets fellow comic writer/artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). Alyssa's project is the less testosterone-oriented Idiosyncratic Routine. She and Holden hit it off almost immediately. They go out for a few drinks and play darts. Later, when talking to best friend Banky, he claims that he and Alyssa "shared a moment" and confesses that he has fallen for her. But, whether or not it's really love, Holden is in for a big surprise because Alyssa is a lesbian. So, while she wants to be friends and pal around with him, Holden finds himself helplessly, hopelessly smitten.

Smith clearly has his hand on the pulse of his generation ("X" marks the spot). His observations about comic books, video games, and other aspects of life in the '90s are as insightful as they often are scathing. But this is nothing new -- it was evident in both Clerks and Mallrats. What's different here is that Smith has crafted a touching, nuanced romance which may be the most memorable screen love affair since Before Sunrise. There are real human feelings and problems involved in Holden and Alyssa's relationship, and, every time the storyline threatens to devolve into a cliché, it somehow avoids the trap. There's also a rich subtext pertaining to the difficulty that many individuals face in attaining a level of comfort with their sexual identity.

The best scenes are those that explore the evolving relationship between Holden and Alyssa. There's a wonderful montage that depicts them doing all the kinds of things that friends do. Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams, both veterans of Smith films, develop an effective chemistry. Adams, who looks a little like Cameron Diaz and sounds a little like Jennifer Tilley, displays surprising dramatic range and ability. She's someone to watch.

Affleck and Adams aren't the only familiar faces to appear in Chasing Amy. Jason Lee, who played one of the leads in Mallrats, is back, albeit in a different role. Brian O'Halloran, Clerks' Dante, has a cameo as a TV producer who wants to develop Bluntman & Chronic into a Saturday morning show. And, of course, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are on hand, dispensing advice as only they can. The end credits once again promise their return (in the long-awaited, often-delayed Dogma, which was originally supposed to be the follow-up to Clerks).

Ever wondered exactly what lesbians do when they're together? Or how they define "virginity"? Banky does, and he's not shy about asking. This leads to a graphically funny sequence that results in Alyssa and Banky comparing "war wounds" gathered from past sexual encounters. Like Clerks, Chasing Amy doesn't shy away from profane conversations. There's even an instance when oral sex is compared to (of all things) The Weather Channel and CNN (you'll have to see the movie to understand why). In fact, I can't print any of Chasing Amy's best lines here -- they're all R-rated.

Chasing Amy is entertainment of the best sort. For nearly two hours, it keeps the audience enraptured. There aren't many missteps, and, those few that exist are minor and easily forgiven. Chasing Amy is touching, funny, sweet, and most important of all, real -- a welcome breath of fresh air. You can't ask for more than that from any motion picture, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a movie in theaters these days that offers anything more appealing, revealing, or enjoyable than Kevin Smith's third feature.

Chasing Amy (United States, 1997)

Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Cinematography: David Klein
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films
Ranked #9 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1997
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1997-03-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1