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June 4, 2010

Pick of the Week: Chasing Amy

I've decided to start doing a pick of the week. Just a random movie I feel like talking about that week. Hopefully I keep up with it every week, but we'll see.

Chasing Amy - 1997

Written and directed by Kevin Smith as what he calls the third part of his "New Jersey Trilogy." Smith, who's always had a soft spot for his holy land of New Jersey, centers around his cast of re-occurring characters and references to characters and events never seen (specifically the death of Julie Dwyer in the YMCA pool, mentioned in all three films). His first film, 1994's "Clerks," became a cult classic thanks to its low-budget black and white filming, but also its use of believable characters (in some less than believable situations) and sex humor. Oh, and in-depth conversations about Star Wars. He reuses these methods in 1995's "Mallrats," which had a bigger budget, more characters and less appeal to the masses. He may have been trying to hard to make a comedy that he went over the top. However, it succeeded in being memorable and solidifying the characters and the atmosphere in which his films are set. "Chasing Amy" came along as Smith's most personal story, brought in many ways from his own relationship with the female lead.

The story centers around Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck, who believe it or not got his start in Smith's films) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, who you may know best from NBC's "My Name is Earl"). They are two old friends who write and animate a popular comic book called "Blunt Man and Chronic," which parodies Batman and Robin and is based off the infamous Jay and Silent Bob, who exist in the reality of Smith's universe, of course. Forget the fact that Affleck's character in "Mallrats" is mentioned once, or that all three lead actors (Affleck, Lee and Joey Lauren Adams) are all in "Mallrats" as different characters than this film. They also all know and speak of characters from "Clerks." Anyway, Adams' character, Alyssa Jones, is a fellow comic creator who has a connection with Holden. But when Holden starts to have a "thing" for Alyssa, he finds out that she's a lesbian. WHAT A TWIST! So, despite Banky's feelings, Holden and Alyssa become good friends and their relationship eventually escalates to a romantic one. Tension grows between Holden and Banky, while Alyssa gets flack from her fellow lesbian community. It all really hits the fan when Holden confronts Alyssa with dark tales of her sexual history, which involve more than just women from Manhattan, and in some cases more than just one guy at a time.

I've always felt this story was so interesting and unique. When I was younger and first became a fan of Smith's films and his intertwining universe of characters and stories, I saw this as a very basic plot. I would explain it to others as, "A guy falls in love with a lesbian. It's really funny." But that's not the point of the film. It took some growing up, and reading Smith's description of the film and his personal story to get the real message across. This film is about relationships, and how to deal with your lover's past. The underlining theme here is that it doesn't matter (to an extent) what someone did before they met you. They've chosen you now and that has to be good enough. You can't expect someone to apologize for the things they did before they ever knew you existed. It had nothing to do with you. There are also several instances where Smith so accurately shows certain rationalizations men make because of our insecure minds. Wanting to know every detail, not because we want to but because we feel a need to. Needing to feel like we're a woman's first experience with something. And of course, men's jealously and trust issues toward the opposite sex and how we always feel the need to fix everything even when it's not broken. I think it took a lot of guts for Smith to write a film that not only put himself down, but his entire gender, because he knows deep down that it's all true.

I have a feeling the gay community would be slightly offended at Alyssa's ability to decide to date a man instead of women, or the idea that "secret" parts of her sexual history involve men, while the parts she most proud of are her many experiences with women, which Holden has no problem with, by the way. He's only upset about all the dudes. I would view her "switch" as unrealistic if I didn't actually know someone who has dated both genders and refuses to refer to herself as bisexual, because what do labels prove anyway? Smith also takes a deep look at the politics within the gay community, as his black gay comic writer Hooper X (posing as a tough, masculine racist towards whites to sell comics) expresses his frustrations with the social fixation on lesbians being "cute," while gay men are viewed as disgusting. Alyssa's friends basically ostracize her for dating a man, showing a very "us vs. them" mentality amongst homosexuals, despite a message in the film that tells us "the heart wants what it wants." These are his observations of the community, but although these might be a stereotype, who's to say it isn't accurate of some?

Overall, if you can get over the (at times) lack-luster acting, and especially Ben Affleck's awful facial hair, you can really see the messages in this film. Holden's solution to this whole debacle is a perfect example of men trying to fix things and the horrible rationale we have. What seems like sort of an epilogue drags out a bit too long, but this is truly one of those films you can laugh at, and possibly cry. Real characters and emotions, and all the more powerful that Smith cast his then girlfriend in the lead, exposing his insecurities on screen. If your a fan of Smith's work, do yourself a favor and see this.

"I finally had something personal to say."


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