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Chasing Amy
1997 - R - 111 Mins.
Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Written By: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Scott Mosier, Brian O'Halloran, Matt Damon
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Kevin Smith isn't typically known for mature work – the majority of his films are funny, but crude. "Chasing Amy," his follow-up to the 1995 box office failure "Mallrats," is certainly the most adult film he has made, in terms of general context. Overall, however, I was left with mixed feelings.

Holden (Ben Affleck) is the co-creator of a popular comic strip named "Bluntman and Chronic." One day at a New York City Comicon Convention, a friend of Holden's introduces him to Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), a free-spirited, adventurous girl whom Holden instantly takes a liking to. As they spend more time together, Holden finds himself falling in love. But there's just one problem: Alyssa is a lesbian.

Holden's best friend and co-writer/artist, Banky (Jason Lee), resents Alyssa – both because he is homophobic and afraid of losing Holden. He doesn't trust Alyssa, and digs up dirt on her that extends into her high school days, when, apparently, she was not just into chicks.

"Chasing Amy" has moments of rare greatness – the dialogue, first of all, is excellent. So is the acting. Joey Lauren Adams has been severely underused since "Chasing Amy," starring in undeveloped romantic roles in comedies such as "Big Daddy." Her character Alyssa in Smith's film is three-dimensional, and her outburst towards the end of the picture is heartfelt and honest. Jason Lee is hilarious in a very believable way (never stretching Banky into a far-fetched comedic personality) and even Ben Affleck manages to remain tolerable. (Which is always unusual.) I think the problem with "Chasing Amy" is that it simply tries too hard, and lacks a point. Smith attempted to prove to his critics that he was capable of making a realistic, sophisticated and complex motion picture and tackles some very, very touchy subjects in the process, without ever coming to any solid conclusion.

Smith is an expert at snappy one-liners and good dialogue. But no matter how clever, insightful and emotionally developed Smith's everyday jargon may very well be, at heart he is still a philistine. One need only listen to five minutes of one of his DVD commentary tracks to realize this. That core immaturity doesn't translate well to the screen in a picture that wants to be taken as something more. It's like a child trying to imitate an adult – the gestures might be there, but the experience and cultivation is not.

Another major weakness of "Chasing Amy" is that it is too blunt, I think. Example? It's heavily implied that Banky is a repressed closet homosexual. It makes sense, and a deleted scene from another of Smith's later films confirms it. But I felt it should never have been addressed at all in "Chasing Amy" – great films imply, they don't stress. A character from "Chasing Amy" explains to Holden what we're all thinking – maybe Banky has feelings for Holden that he isn't ready to acknowledge. This is too much. It's too clear, and not subtle enough. It should have been left up to the audience to use their own perceptions. By the time this "explanation" occurs in the movie, I had already assumed Banky was gay; Smith's desire to put it into words seemed anti-climactic and ruined the speculation.

That best sums up the entire film, really -- "Chasing Amy" has its good parts, but the finished product is messy and contradictory and just too damned wordy. It tries at every turn to be insightful, honest, mature and even epic. The problem with all this is that Smith lacks a point – he wants to say there's nothing wrong with being gay, and love is love no matter whether you're male or female, but it's clear that deep inside he is a bit like Banky – homophobic and immature. His decision to turn Alyssa into a "mistake," a woman who has been fooled into lesbianism, who is "saved" by Holden, doesn't make sense. I'm not criticizing the film's motive – if it had one, I'd judge it based on how well it elucidates it. My own point is that Smith doesn't have one – he's wishy-washy, one moment preaching to his audience about the dangers of homophobia, the next moment turning his lesbian into the very stereotype all lesbians must hate: the woman who is afraid of men and deep down inside her heart is actually is attracted to them. I was left wondering what Smith was trying to get across to his audience.

For what it's worth, my favorite scene from "Chasing Amy" is when Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself) show up. Silent Bob's monologue is honest and tender without coming across as being too showy or gushy. Had the entire film matched this one scene, it would be a great deal better.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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