Someone once told me she was like coffee ice cream, because "you either love me or you hate me, but there's no middle ground."
Kevin Smith's film Chasing Amy seems to provoke a similar dichotomy of responses from its viewers.
Many people simply dismiss it as a "chick flick" and nothing more. After all, within the "love story" genre, the "guy wants girl, guy can't have girl, love somehow triumphs over everything and yet it still all gets screwed up in the end" theme isn't exactly unique among movies, and despite Smith's clever (and often poetic) dialogue, the film is still basically about a guy trying to work through his feelings for a girl, and there are more than a few people who simply have no interest in that type of plot.
Smith grapples with several issues in Amy, tackling questions of sexual identity, friendship, jealousy, and love. But some see these issues as trivial, unimportant, or just boring. Some recognize the importance of the issues, but dislike Smith's presentation. For whatever reason, some folks just watch the movie, think "ho hum," and move on with their lives.
But for other people, Amy is a uniquely touching film with a powerful message.
Fans watch the film, empathize with the characters, and connect on a personal level with the struggle that is being portrayed. People see themselves as Alyssa, as Holden, as Banky. They remember what it was like to be the girl with the spotty past or the jealous boyfriend who can't seem to let her forget any of it.
They're reminded of past relationships, of painful memories in which love seemed to crumble apart because of jealousy. They remember The Girl or The Guy with whom everything could have worked out but didn't--the person they loved years or just months ago--and they remember the panic that gripped them both when they realized the harder they tried, the quicker the relationship fell apart.
More importantly, they remember regret.
People watch this movie and cry out at the screen. They scream at Holden, Alyssa, and Banky; they tell them to stop, to work it out, to see it through. They yell at the screen because it's the closest synthesis available to yelling at their past selves--"If only I could go back, knowing what I know now. I'd never hurt him/her the way I did in the past...not now."--but instead all they can do is watch the film, watch the relationships spiral apart, watch their story played out on the screen.
Other writeups in this node already discuss Chasing Amy's characters, its plot, features available on the DVD, etc., so there's no need to rehash that here. Instead, I'd like to focus on the background behind Amy--specifically, the personal story that caused Kevin Smith to craft the film that would later touch so many people's lives.
The reason Amy strikes so many people the way it does is that at its core is a man who was, more or less, faced with the exact same issues as Holden McNeil. In every writing medium (even here on E2), one is encouraged to "write what you know," and that's just what Smith did. This is why the movie comes across as so incredibly sincere and why so many people relate to the film so effortlessly.
Smith has discussed the basis for Amy in interviews before, but the story is very elegantly laid out in the liner notes included with the Criterion Collection DVD. Says Smith, "This flick...is me on a slab, laid out for the world to see." He explains that Chasing Amy was, in fact, based on his (former) relationship with actress Joey Lauren Adams, who plays Alyssa Jones in the film. Kevin explains:
It's no secret that the origins of Amy resided in my then-relationship with the woman who'd brought the uncompromising, distaff main character of Alyssa Jones so vividly to life--Joey Lauren Adams. Granted, Joey wasn't gay, and I've never fallen in love with a lesbian (well, not that I know of, anyway). But the movie did grow out of my initial reaction to Joey's past (which, in all fairness, wasn't nearly as salacious as Alyssa's crafted history; a history which has since--more than likely--prompted many a parent to lock up their teenage daughters).
Thus the poignant
story of Holden and his inability to accept Alyssa's past grew from Kevin's own inability to accept Joey's. It was the classic "opposites attract
" routine: Kevin had rarely strayed from his Jersey
birthplace, while Joey had lived in Australia
, New Orleans
, San Diego
, and Los Angeles
. He described her as "into the Salvation Army
and the hidden treasures every woman knows lie within," and himself as simply "a Toys-R-Us kid
But the biggest differences lay in their sexual histories. As Smith explains (and as far too many of us already know), "a partner's sexual past has a way of ruining an otherwise healthy relationship." Smith tripped up on his own insecurities, feeling that he had to "measure up to somebody...or a lot of somebodies."
As it often does, insecurity developed into anger, and soon Smith found himself taking that anger out on Joey. Once he realized what was going on, he used his talent for filmmaking as a type of catharsis. He explains:
[T]he day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met...well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn't quite as liberal as I fancied myself...rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less--a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.
Kevin used the film to work through (and share) the demon
s that plague
d him. He says, "Watching this film, the viewer can find me in every nook and cranny
." He describes Holden as the closest character to himself he's even written, while his foil
, Alyssa, is the "voice of reason
that I'd never listen to."
Remembering how he felt about Joey's past, emotions that so many people can (and do) relate to, Smith said, "I knew what I was doing/feeling was immature, but you just can't fight City Hall, sometimes."
Like their on-screen counterparts Holden and Alyssa, Kevin and Joey eventually did go their separate ways. But the story Smith wrote (and filmed) based on those experiences remains, continuing to this day to affect people--first time and repeat viewers alike. With his elegant writing style and sharp wit, Smith took an extremely personal story and developed it into a truly insightful, provocative, and enjoyable film.
Some walk away from this film with a feeling of loss; the story has a tendency to strike home awfully hard sometimes.
But others leave with a sense of hope: a sense that they've learned something profound, that they might learn to overcome the stupid, petty jealousies that seem to plague relationships. For these people, seeing a story so similar to their own empowers them; they realize they're not alone when they struggle against their own emotions, when they struggle against themselves.
The lesson in Amy is that the only way we move on in life, the only way we put our stupid mistakes behind us, is to grow as individuals. Rarely does one find a film that actually ends with its audience wanting to grow--to better themselves, and specifically, to become more introspective--a fact that perhaps explains why Chasing Amy is so close to so many people's hearts.