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Chasing Amy

July 20, 2016

Chasing Amy (1997)
Director: Kevin Smith
Actors: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee

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Synopsis: Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) are comic book artists living and working in New York. Holden develops an interest in fellow comic book artist, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), though quickly discovers she is a lesbian. After months of a platonic friendship, Holden and Alyssa start dating but when revelations about Alyssa’s past life and Holden’s subsequent insecurities start to surface, the relationship begins to falter….

Review: Anticipating the Judd Apatow ‘stunted male maturity’ brand ten years before its time, Kevin Smith’s seemingly ironic take on a young man’s romantic dalliance with a would-be, risqué lesbian is generally considered to be the high point of Smith’s body of work to date though I personally take it to be a reductive juncture in Smith’s career compared to his more situationally-specific and fine-tuned predecessors, Clerks and Mallrats.

Chasing Amy essentially fails in three clear, distinct ways. First, its hermetic, comic-nerd universe and the ironic way that embalms the overall story is predictable and increasingly nauseating. The “tracer” gag (where our comic book artists are mocked as simply tracers and fillers in of outlines) in the opening comic book convention scene is an over-telegraphed graphic novel in-joke which acts as emblem for the obvious comic rhetoric of the rest of the film. Also, the moving of Jay and Silent Bob from the anarchic fringes of the story (à la Clerks) into indulgent, populist centrepieces continues apace – especially when Silent Bob gets a suspiciously long and articulate vocal slot here (acting as transparent mouthpiece for Smith himself?) when he manages to conveniently frame the Holden-Alyssa romantic dilemma in his own identical, asinine example.

Chasing Amy‘s second problem is that it ends up falling foul of the in-narrative dialectic it supposedly dramatises – the male demystification of the “lesbian”. Joey Lauren Adams’ Alyssa winds up as just a cipher or disingenuous plot device: conveniently designed to be this edgy lesbian procuring laughs at the beginning as she sparks off against Holden and Banky’s stereotypical male viewpoint, but all that is dropped when she falls in love with Holden’s blander-than bland sop. It feels a complete misstep from the off, even more so when Alyssa seems genuinely heartbroken at her break-up with Holden and at their final wistful meeting at the comic book convention. Alyssa ends up encapsulating a form of fantasy projection for stunted males: a punky dike who can be conquered by the hetero male and left to simper when that same male sabotages it all because he’s intimidated by her libertarian vibes. In the real world, even if Alyssa was bi-curious, she wouldn’t look twice at a doofus like Holden.

Finally, Chasing Amy is simply too generic, too mainstream in its plot conceit and overall sensibility. Yes, it may have the gilded veneer of its comic-book conventions, its meta-referential dialogue and its trashy male slacker apartments replete with graffiti, cigarette trays and mattresses on floors, but the film’s devolving into a conventional, three-act rom-com betrays the true bent of Smith’s aspirations. (July 2016)

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