Chasing Amy is not a comedy in my humble opinion, but rather it is something more. How it is billed a comedy, or even a dark comedy, is beyond my comprehension. That does not mean that the film is bad or accomplishes nothing. In fact, far from it. Having not seen the film for eight years and now watching it as a twenty-five year old, about the age of the characters, I can say that this is truly one of the most dead-on and emotionally genuine films I have ever seen.
TRAILER (see how I hate the “trailer voice” and feel? Misses its mark) — http://youtu.be/PR4rVGiKC9g
The characters are uncertain, afraid, in love, and still smoothing out all of their identities. That all having been said, as good as the film can be if being judged by these attributes, this is probably not a film that should be watched all the time. It is demanding and depressing and carries a weight that is not often associated with Kevin Smith films. If someone told me that this was their favorite film and they watch it more than once a year, hell, once every few years, I’d be a little concerned for their well-being.
One of the things that hit me about it is how much it is a nineties film, without equivocation. The nineties as a whole (based on a lot of reading) weren’t very good for cinema. The general consensus that in the 20th century, the three weakest decades for cinema fall in this order from “worst” to “kind of bad”: 50s, 80s, 90s. This opinion from scholarly texts and critics and cinephiles can be misleading however, since the nineties carried great variety of content and change. It could be argued as the decade where the big studios really faltered in identity themselves, but not quite as bad as the 80s. Another important thing to remember is that this was the decade where independent cinema got its “green light.”
Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, just to name two of the handful of success stories, got their chance because they were at the right place at the right time in the right generation with the right talent. If all of these planets had not aligned, we wouldn’t have continued into the 21st Century with the variety of big and small films we now enjoy. The Hollywood industrial machine discovered that great things can be found in small places, like New Jersey, and otherwise unheard of filmmakers would be given a shot to make great art. Studios from coast-to-coast were so unsure of their faltering models and what the future would hold that they finally and desperately turned to the indie circuit to try new things after the abysmal 80s.
Kevin Smith’s “Jersey Trilogy” (Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy) all exist in a particular real world while simultaneously being a made-up world of self-reference, post-modernism, and indie culture. Sometimes to my enjoyment and sometimes to my chagrin, this self-awareness that many independent films exude can be a double-edged sword; regardless, it made the indie movement in the 90s unique and memorable. Certain things in Smith and Tarantino films could only exist because of their particular circumstances, experiences, and creative processes, and for that they deserve recognition.
But enough about philosophies and the industry: What makes this film, Chasing Amy (1997), really tick?
First of all, there might be one or two other films that do what this film does with its genre, and that is hold the audience’s attention for almost two hours while dealing with a subject matter of hetero- and homosexuality and dark comedy. I cannot think of another film in this genre where every scene adds depth and story. There is not one piece of the film—not one word of the script—that was frivolously thrown in to make some full-length requirement or add some cheap laughs. That does not mean that every joke was good or bad, but that it all entered the film with a purpose. And that is how all films should be; not for a quick laugh or some side note, but for the development of the story. Most films suffer from what is called a “Second Act Dip” or “Slowdown.” Notoriously, the bulk of any film, the second act, can be a pain to keep strong and kinetic, and I can honestly say that I had no problem going through this film. The second act kept me interested the whole time.
Now, from reading what I have written so far, it may sound like I am a huge fan of the film. I am not. It may even sound as if I am a big Kevin Smith fan. I am not. So why the praise?
Well, while I respect what the film has done insofar as subject matter, budget, and “world creation” for itself, I do not find the movie easy to watch. It is visceral and personal and frank. Some films are like this. Look at Saving Private Ryan, World’s Greatest Dad, A Clockwork Orange, or Requiem for a Dream. All of these films are well done, award-winning even, but they are psychologically and emotionally demanding films that one should probably not be watch multiple time a year! They are all reflecting on something big and put the viewer into that dark place. Chasing Amy, (whose inception I would love learn about from Smith) is a film which, like the characters, makes you want to smoke during or afterwards.
To be honest I do not understand how on a quarter million dollar budget, it made a bit over twelve million. Go figure.
And the acting and script, while very good all around, is not without its faults. For one thing, the portion of the film early on in the bar where Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) sings on stage is something I always want to fast-forward through, and the following scene where Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) and she talk about their sexual battle scars I always felt was a little forced, especially the cringe worthy fake laughter.
Personally, I feel that it would not have been hard for Smith to also write in some other environment for Holden (Ben Affleck) and Alyssa to talk about the “fingercuffs” thing other than the hockey rink, though I do understand the parallel between the interrogation and the game itself. Cute, I guess. But my issue come with the fact that Smith is so hung up on hockey personally. I get it—it is part of his life and his upbringing. But why did he feel the need to include it in Clerks, Clerks 2, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. It’s gimmicky. Too much, Kevin. Perhaps this is to give his “Smith world” that cohesive gel for all of his movies like a clever snarky homage, but I always have found it lazy. We get it. You like hockey. It’s your pastime. Now be creative and add some variety to your films.
Another thing was the hair-brained idea that the Holden character proposes to Banky and Alyssa near the end of the film: The three-way sex. I don’t think that he thought that through. I’m not saying that Smith didn’t think it through. I know that Smith thought it through very well. That idea and that dialogue was right for the character. Smith purposely wrote in a dumb, naïve proposition for Holden to offer to his best friend and girlfriend. It’s that human fault of the character, not the weakness of Smith’s writing. Having said that, understanding it is good writing with a purpose, I’m still annoyed and confused every time I see that scene because the character of Holden in the film really thinks this will help and didn’t think about all the side effects and collateral damage that could “domino” from such a situation. I feel like I’m watching a ship go down every time he pulls up that red chair and has three glasses of wine set up next to him with candle lit. Holden just didn’t think about all the outcomes, as Alyssa clearly points out before she slaps him. They don’t have the same history, and now is not the time to make up for it. Some people just don’t work together.
In the end, the ride was very real and I’m left not sure what to think. It seems like with the crossed fingers that Holden gives Banky from across the room one year after they’ve spoken leave a little hope for their relationship; and the same can be said of the brief conversation that Holden has with Alyssa. My issue comes with how the film just “cuts out” that year apart where all of these three characters are alone and clearly not as happy as they could have been. That sucks. It’s not me casting judgment on the script that it is good or bad to have cut to “ONE YEAR LATER,” it just sucks to know that for a year these characters are implied in the film to have not spoken at all to each other until this comic convention which closes the film. It’s sad. We care about these characters. It must have been a difficult shoot emotionally.
And we are left with no promises, only the glimmer of something undefined.
And isn’t that what life is anyway?