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Chasing Amy (1997)

by on 2011/02/14

“In love you have to put the individual ahead of their actions . . . always.”

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I love Kevin Smith, figuratively speaking.  It could be his geekiness, an appearance somewhat similar to my own, or his persistent generosity where Canada is concerned.  I enjoy hearing him interviewed, watching his Evening with Kevin Smith videos, and spotting his appearances in everything from Daredevil to Die Hard 4, and Degrassi to Donnie Darko.

Ironically, I’m not a big fan of his own movies.  While I admire his can-do indie spirit, going for broke against the tide of a fickle mainstream, there’s a quality to most of his work which just doesn’t appeal to me.  There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and he’s produced two of them so far:  Zack and Miri and Chasing Amy.

With Chasing Amy, Smith is said to have written and directed his most autobiographical effort of all.  Set in Jersey and New York, it features Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) as Holden McNeil and Jason Lee (The Incredibles) as Banky Edwards.  In a studio loft above a music shop, their “Bank Holdup” partnership produces a popular independent comic series.

Through a mutual friend (Dwight Ewell), they meet Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), the auteur behind her own comic series.  Holden immediately develops a crush on her, a situation complicated by her being a lesbian.  These feelings strain his twenty-year relationship with Banky, who may himself be attracted to Holden.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith (Degrassi Goes Hollywood) play Jay and Silent Bob in a brief but significant scene.  Other familiar faces appear in cameo roles, including Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Brian O’Halloran, and Guinevere Turner.

This piece is peppered with as many odd and geeky nods as cameos.  References include Archie, Batman, Debbie Gibson, Degrassi Junior High, Hellboy, Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, among many other properties.

Like his contemporary, Quentin Tarantino, Smith employs such quirky matters beyond simple lip service.  His script depends on conversation to move the plot along, with heavy reliance on monologues.  Where the production falls short of greatness, it gains ground in matters of interest, unconventional opinions, and a winning lack of pretense.

Over its running time, I counted at least five major scenes of such fun and substance that I couldn’t imagine them being matched . . . at least until a subsequent one arrived and proved me wrong.

  • During an early panel discussion, the Star Wars trilogy is critiqued as racist.
  • At the midpoint, Holden tells Alyssa of his feelings, threatening their friendship.
  • Alyssa plays “the pronoun game” in explaining Holden to her lesbian friends.
  • Holden and Alyssa argue against a violent hockey backdrop.
  • Silent Bob tells an analogous “Chasing Amy” story toward the end.

Shortly after the hockey game, Joey Lauren Adams delivers a stunning speech in a parking lot.  For me, it was the highlight in a series of highlights, containing more truth and drama than an entire Merchant Ivory picture, production values notwithstanding.

I felt during this viewing as if I were watching a variant of Free Enterprise, one with a slightly narrower focus.  Since I already loved that film, it’s probably unsurprising I also loved Chasing Amy.  It involves creative comic geek gamers and their difficult relationships.  How could it miss?  Simply put, it doesn’t.

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Rated R/18A for adult situations and language

113 minutes

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