Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I Finally Watched Chasing Amy

(This is the fourth in a series of how a fifty-year-old geek finally saw the films of Kevin Smith. If you want the origin story for this series, read the Introduction. I've already reviewed Clerks and Mallrats.)

You've got to be kidding me, right? Kevin Smith, the same guy who wrote Clerks and Mallrats, also wrote Chasing Amy?

Three Different Films...

Clerks is the slice-of-life kind of film famed for its indie spirit. Mallrats is a raucous comedy about twentysomethings in the mid 90s. Chasing Amy is an all-out romantic drama with some humorous dialogue thrown in. On the surface, you'd be right to question if the same writer developed all three films. But there's an underlying thread running through all three films.

Chasing Amy starts in a comic book convention. Check traditional Smith trope number one. A fan wanting to get his comic book signed starts an argument with Jason Lee's character, Banky Edwards. Banky is the inker for the famous Bluntman and Chronic book, and he and the fan dispute the importance of an inker. The fan says Banky is merely a tracer. Banky thinks otherwise. They come to fisticuffs, leaving it to Ben Affleck's Holden McNeil (the penciller) to break it up.

[Aside: The worst part about not knowing much of anything about Kevin Smith films and having to go to Wikipedia to verify names is seeing certain characters, like Banky, have their own entry. Thus spoiling things for future films, because the best thing about Smith's films is seeing how and where the same actors show up.]

Now, I'll admit when I first saw Jason Lee, I thought he was the same character as in Mallrats. Ditto for Affleck, which led to wonder how the two characters from Mallrats made up and work together. That's not the case here. In this film, the main stars, like the various other side characters, play different people in this movie.

It's at the comic con where Holden first lays eyes on Alyssa Jones, played by the brilliant Joey Lauren Adams. Alyssa is also a comic book writer, but for a not-very-famous title. Holden is besotted, especially when Alyssa invites him out to meet her in a bar. A very particular kind of bar that Banky picks up on pretty quickly but that Holden doesn't until the shattering moment when Alyssa makes out with a girl.

A Shared Moment

Alyssa is gay. Holden has no clue. He thinks she had eyes for him. She doesn't, but she likes him as a friend. Script-wise, the scene was great. The bartender, Hooper X, (Dwight Ewell) is flamboyantly gay and he's about to tell Holden the truth, but Holden's too fixated on Alyssa singing her torch song to listen. Banky looks around, sees all the evidence that it is a gay bar, and the smile Lee brings the Banky's face is fantastic. It's only when Holden's world is crushed when Banky tells him "That, my friend, was a shared moment."

The Frank Dialogue

In what I'm now realizing is a trope of Smith, Banky, Holden, Alyssa, and her gal head off to a different bar where copious amounts of dialogue occurs. In Clerks, it was about life in dead-end jobs. Mallrats was about suburban pop culture. Chasing Amy is about relationships, love, and sex. Here, Alyssa and Banky see eye-to-eye on many things. And, in a particularly hilarious spoof, they start comparing sexual scars...just like the three characters did in Jaws. When Alyssa props her leg on the table just like Robert Shaw in Spielberg's movie, I busted out laughing. Not only does the dialogue move the story forward, it's also a great in-joke for movie buffs. Just like Kevin Smith.

The Story Twist

After a so typical 90s montage scene showing Alyssa and Holden doing various things, getting along, and, of course, Holden falling in love, the movie comes down to two people sitting in a car. Rain pours down and Holden has to reveal the truth to Alyssa. He declares his love for her in a rather decent manner. Sure, it's not Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, but it's genuine and heartfelt. And selfish.

Watching in 2019, in the week celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, in a year in which it's no big deal to see same sex couples at the grocery store or concerts, I was shocked at Holden's declaration. What was he thinking? What did he expect would happen? I'll tell you one thing: Alyssa's reaction is exactly what I expected.

Joey Lauren Adams Knocks It Out of the Park

Up until this point in my Kevin Smith movie run, Joey Lauren Adams has been the bubbly girl with the unique voice and the infectious laugh. But in this scene when Holden lays out his heart, she is brilliant. The anguish. The betrayal. The anger. It all comes out in this fantastic scene, especially her reaction to Holden's stupid off-hand comment about "a period of adjustment." Great, great scene. I wasn't sure where they were going to go next, but I sure as hell didn't expect the kiss.

Nor the dating stuff. Sure, I expected the scene when Alyssa tells her friends, but what sets Adams's performance above everything in this movie is that she effortlessly goes from the anger of the rain scene to the wonderful explanation scene when she answers Holden's "Why me? Why now?" question. Her answer is so sincere and so from the heart. "The way the world is, how seldom it is that you meet that one person who just gets you - it's so rare." Holy cow, this is good. So good.

And then she turns it back up during the hockey scene and its aftermath. Man, I wanted to slap Holden for doing what every single guy in a relationship tries to do: find the history of the new girlfriend and compare. And Alyssa deservedly lets him have it. "I was an experimental girl for Christ's sake! Maybe you knew from early on your track was from point A to B, but unlike you I was not given a f***ing map at birth, so I tried it all! That is until we, you and I, got together and suddenly I was sated!" That may not be as succinct as "You had me at hello" or "I know," but that's one of the best declarations of love I've seen on screen, and it's delivered like a gut punch. Or a kick the nuts.

Jay and Silent Bob Arrive

Nearly eighty minutes into the film, Jay and Silent Bob arrive. Again, as in Mallrats, you can't help but wonder how a cool kid like Holden even knows or hangs around these two. Again, probably because he's best friends with the writer, Jay gets one of the funniest lines in the whole movie: "Bitch pressin' charges? I get that a lot." He delivers the line as if he's in a Naked Gun movie: deadpan, straight, and with obvious history.

Over three movies, I've been conditioned to expect Silent Bob to speak. He spoke gold in Clerks. He spoke a joke in Mallrats. Now, in Chasing Amy, I expected gold again. I got it, in the form of a soliloquy on love.

"I wasn't disgusted with her, I was afraid. At that moment, I felt small - I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level, like I'd never be enough for her or something like that, you know what I'm sayin'? But what I did not get - she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore. She was...she was looking for me, for - for the Bob. But, uh, by the time I figured this all out, it was too late, you know. She'd moved on, and all I had to show for it was some foolish pride, which then gave way to regret. She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away. So I've spent every day since then chasing to speak."

Give Smith credit: he can write some awesome dialogue for his actors to say, but he saves some of the juiciest morsels for himself. Other actors might get more memorable and quotable lines, but the heart of the story rests in the words of Silent Bob.

Holden's Stunningly Stupid Idea

I've been keeping notes as I watch these movies. Yeah, I'm a dork, but I want to capture my thoughts. I wrote "astonishingly dumb!" when I realized what Holden suggests he and Alyssa and Banky do together:  have sex. She knew it, Banky was oddly clueless. Did Holden not hear what Alyssa said (and that I quoted here)? Did he not understand what Silent Bob told him? I mean, come on. If Silent Bob breaks his silence to relay some morsel of knowledge, listen man!

But no, Holden didn't listen. He thought the three of them having sex would solve everything, Alyssa's explanation as to why she was walking out the door killed any chance he had with her. Well, heck, let's be honest: after the hockey scene, there was no chance.

Separate Lives

It is still simply wild that Holden would even suggest such a solution, so I was greatly rewarded when the three of them ended up with three separate lives. As much as I was surprised with the initial kiss between Alyssa and Holden, I would have been pissed if they ended up together. Glad they didn't, but it makes the ending, the final line, that much more poignant. A year later, at another comic convention, Holden and Alyssa have a final and proper good-bye. When asked by her companion who Holden was, Alyssa has the perfect response: "Just some guy I knew," relegating Holden to a past lover, a past Alyssa will likely not mention unless asked.

The Verdict

Chasing Amy was an unexpected film. It didn't fit into the mold of what I assumed Smith's movies were like. I assumed he had a career of Mallrats and Clerks clones. That isn't what Chasing Amy is. This is a really good film, chock full of multiple truths, as told by a gifted storyteller with something to say in the mid 1990s.

There's a trend apparent in the first three films that I'm curious to see if it continues. With Clerks, it was all about the truth as Smith knew life as a young twentysomething not seeing himself or his friends represented on screen. It was cheap to look at but rich in character. Flush with success and money, he makes a strikingly different film in Mallrats, an over-the-top comedy I enjoyed but didn't make a lot of money. Batting only .500, Smith had to draw on more truth, this time an emotional truth. Clerks and Chasing Amy both look and feel like indie films. Mallrats doesn't.

This is kind of like the even numbered Star Trek movies being the better ones while the odd numbered ones just move things forward.

Looked at it another way, one might argue Smith's merely flexing his movie muscle, trying his hand at various types of movies he had consumed up until that point: the talky one, the comedy, the romantic drama. Knowing Dogma is next, I cannot even imagine what that film will be like.

But I'm eager to see it.

Watching for the Trademark Kevin Smith Things

A real treat about watching these films for the first time at age fifty and having listening to Smith's podcasts for years is to see how certain things he still says to this day initially show up in his movies. Here are a few I saw:

  • First mention of cock knocker
  • DeGrasse
  • Alyssa overtly naming characters from Clerks and Chasing Amy
  • Inker discussion
  • Brian O'Halloran is back. That's three for three
  • Camera work in the car while Holden and Alyssa are driving, the back-and-forth


When I saw this movie in early July 2019, the trailer for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot had not yet dropped. When it did, the world got to see the fact that Affleck and Smith got past whatever had driven them apart. I've now listened to Smith relate the details of Affleck coming down to the set and working again as Holden. Which prompted Smith to write a sequel to Chasing Amy.

Look, I'm in the bag for the Reboot film, but having already seen eight of Smith's films as of this writing [21 August 2019], the Chasing Amy scene in Reboot is probably the one I'm looking forward to the most.

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