Looking back at Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy

Our Kevin Smith retrospective turns to arguably his finest film to date, Chasing Amy...

“Bitch, what you don’t know about me I can just about squeeze in the Grand fucking Canyon. Did you know I always wanted to be a dancer in Vegas?” – Silent Bob

For an abundance of really good reasons, Chasing Amy is regularly cited as the best film that Kevin Smith has made to date. Personally, it’s my favourite, too. As with Clerks, I met it for the first time in a film studies class, but have rewatched it many times since…

Set in Smith’s View Askewniverse, the film first introduces us to Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). The two are best friends and work together on a popular comic book called Bluntman and Chronic, characters based on the likeness of Jay and Silent Bob. With the comic becoming more successful, they make an appearance at a New York comic book convention and it is here that Holden is first introduced to Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), a successful comic book writer in her own right, and a lesbian.

After their initial meeting Holden is smitten with Alyssa, and although he knows nothing can happen between the two he decided to peruse a friendship with her. The two soon become fast friends and are constantly hanging out with each other, much to the annoyance of Banky who starts to become increasingly jealous. Holden’s feelings for Alyssa develop quickly and he is soon in the dilemma of deciding if he should go ahead and tell her how he feels or hold back and preserve the friendship they have built up. He decides to go with his gut-instinct and professes how he feels. The revelation upsets Alyssa as she thinks it is inconsiderate and unfair to put her in that position as he knows about her sexuality and can’t share the same feelings with him. Heartbroken Holden thinks all is lost, until Alyssa confesses that she also has feeling for him, and the two embark on a relationship.

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Fuelling the fire of Banky’s already jealous streak, he starts digging into Alyssa’s past and finds out that in high school she garnered the nickname ‘Finger-Cuffs’, after details of a threesome with her and two of her male classmates came to light. Angry and betrayed, Holden confronts Alyssa who admits it’s all true, and although she is sorry for misleading him to thinking he was the only man she has ever been with, she will not apologise for her past.

Unsure of anything, it is a lunch with Jay and Silent Bob, who are there to collect their royalty payments for use of their images in the comic, which puts everything into perspective. Bob breaks his silence and tells Holden of a relationship he once had similar to that of his with Alyssa. Afraid his girlfriend had such a colourful past he could not keep up with her he sabotaged the relationship and has regretted it since. After all, now he is always ‘Chasing Amy’.

With Bob’s wise words in his head, Holden calls Alyssa and Banky together and suggests a way to fix all their problems would be to have a threesome. While Banky initially agrees, Alyssa is heartbroken and although she loved Holden, she will not be his whore. The two break-up and the professional and personal relationship between Holden and Banky is over.

Fast forward a year later at the same comic book convention and Banky is now the sole owner of Bluntman and Chronic. Holden arrives and they share a friendly smile. Holden then makes his way over to Alyssa’s stand where he gives her a copy of his new comic ‘Chasing Amy’. As he walks away her girlfriend arrives and asks who he was. While watching him leave she replies that she was just some guy she knew and life once again moves on.

Chasing Amy is a movie that totally fits its time. Released in 1997 it takes a honest look at relationships and how people define themselves not so much by being heterosexual or homosexual but by being honest and falling in love with the person rather than the gender of that person. Of course everybody has a preference, but you are not chained to that decision. That’s the moral at work here.

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The cast that comes together in this movie are wonderful, Affleck plays the lovelorn lead perfectly and as an audience we go through all his emotions. It starts with his puppy love for Alyssa which progresses into a relationship. Then there’s his betrayal when he finds out she has been with other men before, through to the conclusion that you can actually make it out of a relationship in one piece, even though there is still that piece of your heart that belongs to the person who broke it. Supporting the two leads, Jason Lee is again perfectly cast as the slacker friend and is almost a bit more of a grown up version of Brodie from Mallrats. His downward spiral into jealousy runs smoothly along with the development of the Holden/Alyssa relationship and I actually felt sadder over the demise of the Holden/Banky relationship than of the former.

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith pop up as Jay and Silent Bob for less than 15 minutes but Bob’s speech really gels the ending together and there are also a few real laugh out loud moments with Jay’s responses to Bob’s story. I also cannot fail to mention Dwight Ewell’s Hooper X, another comic book creator who in public is all black power and down with the white man, but in private is a camp gay man. Every scene with him in is a gem and his rant about Darth Vader is one of the funniest sequences within the movie.

The glue that holds it all together though is Smith’s script which starts off more in a comedic vein and then reveals itself to be this honest romantic story. Friends, background and timing can all affect who we fall in love with but not everybody gets a happy ending, and that is the beauty of this script. Life does move on when a relationship ends and even while you are in it, it’s not all roses and romance. Smith manages to find that balance of honesty and comedy while keeping in his trademark in-jokes.

This is the film which arguably really saved Smith’s career. After the dismal box office performance of Mallrats, Chasing Amy was filmed on a shoestring budget but audiences really connected with it and it became a huge success. It helped build the star status of Ben Affleck and prove his acting chops on the big screen. Smith’s next film would be a controversial one and one that would again be personal to him, dealing with his Catholic religion (before Dan Brown made it cool). Next time we’ll be hanging with the Angels (and Demons) in Dogma.

Chasing Amy Key Info:Released: April 4th 1997 (US) / 14th November 1997 (UK)Distributed By: Miramax StudiosBudget: $250,000Box Office Gross: $15,155,095Best DVD Edition: Chasing Amy (Criterion Collection)

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