"It's not who you love. It's how."

1997 film on love and sexuality, written and directed by Kevin Smith.

"Clerks had been over-praised, Mallrats had been over-bashed. We'd been to both ends of the spectrum. The third time is always supposed to be the charm, so we were able to approach Chasing Amy from a very liberated position: What better could they ever say about us than they did the first time, and what worse could they ever say about us than they did the second time? And that made it somewhat easy to make an honest film."
Kevin Smith - www.viewaskew.com

background

Released as the third part of the New Jersey Trilogy, Chasing Amy was a return to the subject of bittersweet relationships after the critically misunderstood and comparatively comic book-like Mallrats. Made within a respectably frugal budget of just $250,000, the film surpassed the acclaim received by his debut Clerks, earning a place on many a critic's top ten lists for 1997 and even going so far as to be rated by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of that year.

Despite being shrugged off by some as being a 'mere' chick-flick, Amy went far beyond the standard boy meets girl traumas and observations presented in Clerks. Loosely based on his relationship with Joey Lauren Adams it was, as Kevin put it, his own life laid out on a slab for the world to see. While he's quick to point out that Joey was never a lesbian, his relationship was nevertheless hindered by the feeling of having to measure up to a partner who had lived more life than he had.

"I was a guy from Highlands, New Jersey, content to live and die in the same twenty mile radius I'd spent almost all of my life in to that point. She was from North Little Rock, Arkansas, but you wouldn't know it. Joey had done some travelling, living in Australia, Bali, New Orleans, San Diego, and then settling in Los Angeles. I like my gatherings small and intimate; Joey likes hers huge, loud, and loaded with spirits of many kinds. But these were nothing compared to the differences in our sexual history."
Kevin Smith - www.viewaskew.com

Although it only picked up a handful of independent awards and nominations, mainly for Joey Lauren Adams as best actress, I think it's still Kevin Smith's best work to date. The comedy moments will make you laugh as much as any of his other films but it's the first one so far to bring with it an equal portion of tears. If you're given to blubbing uncontrollably at films, you're advised to keep a good stock of hankies beside you while you watch it.

Alyssa
Looks like a very personal story.

Holden
I finally had something personal to say.

synopsis

The film opens with life-long best friends Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), the sole producers of Bluntman and Chronic, a successful comic book heavily based on the characters of Jay and Silent Bob. The new issue is selling like crazy, there's interest from television networks concerning a possible animated series and life is sweet until they are introduced to Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a convention. Alyssa is also a comic artist, albeit a less successful one. Idiosyncratic Routine doesn't pander to the adolescent male fantasies of most comic books and, as a result, appeals to only a very selective audience.

Alyssa
Nope. I’m happy my stuff gets read at all. There’s very little market for hearts and flowers in this spandex-clad, big pecs, big tits, big guns field. If I sell two issues, I feel like John Grisham.

Holden is helplessly smitten with Alyssa and is convinced that she feels the same way about him until he discovers that her affections belong to another woman. As their friendship deepens and slowly evolves into love, Banky begins to see Alyssa as a threat to his friendship with Holden and the comic, and takes it upon himself to stop their relationship by any means possible. When he discovers some sordid details about Alyssa's past sexual exploits with two guys at school, it bursts Holden's fantasy bubble that he's been the only man in her life up to that point and it freaks him out, knowing that it shouldn't bother him but being eaten up about the fact that it does. When he confronts her about it, it puts a strain on their relationship that, misguidedly, Holden sees as having only one unlikely solution...

dvd profile

Available as part of the much-mooted Criterion Collection, the disc features the film itself, obviously (duration: 1h 53m), and a wealth of extra features including:

sources:
(the quotes) http://www.viewaskew.com/chasingamy/howwhy1.html
(nailing down the specifics) www.imdb.com
and the fact that i've seen it about a million times.

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, Bali, 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 demons that plagued 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.

While they are many strong themes in Kevin Smith’s third film, “Chasing Amy,” one that isn’t often brought to light is how the movie touches on themes of artistic vision vs. commercial success and the film often echoes the experiences that Kevin himself went through after the smashing success of his $37,000 debut “Clerks” and his follow-up, the much more mainstream (yet still fantastic) film “Mallrats,” a box office and critical failure that was budgeted at 165 times the shooting budget of “Clerks.” These themes are persistent throughout “Chasing Amy.”

This theme begins right at the films opening titles which show faux articles on the two main male characters in “Chasing Amy,” Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), which can be read in much more detail at the official Chasing Amy website (http://www.viewaskew.com/chasingamy/bhnews.html). In these articles, we are told of Banky and Holden’s first comic, titled “37,” which tells the tale of their misadventures working together at a store. Not only is the title similar to the “37 dicks” joke in “Clerks” but the two young males having misadventures in a store is quite similar to the misadventures of Dante and Randal in “Clerks.” Yet while those two worked at the actual Quick Stop, located at 58 Leonard Avenue in Leonardo, New Jersey, Holden and Banky worked at the Atlantic Highlands Food City. Their stories are inspired by actual events as the clip from The Two Rivers Times shows, just as “Clerks” was inspired by Smith’s own misadventures at the Quick Stop. The article also makes mention of a guidance counselor that spent “hours looking through all the eggs, trying to piece together a perfect dozen” (referencing a scene in “Clerks”). Oh, and check the upper left hand corner of that article for a fascinating “Mallrats” reference as well.

The clip that goes by from The Asbury Park Press (“Outtakes” section) describes the book as a “black-and-white ‘indie’ comic book.” Another one of the fake articles is a clip from Comic Shop News that tells us that “37” won an Eisner Award, which is an award given out at the San Diego Comic-Con, an exclusive gathering of comic intellectuals. Just as “Clerks” won awards at Cannes and Sundance, which are both exclusive gatherings of film intellectuals. It lists that they will be publishing their next comic, “Bluntman and Chronic” on Contender Comics, which is a more mainstream comic label in the story, just as “Mallrats” came out under the Universal Pictures subsidiary Gramercy Pictures, a more mainstream film studio. Throughout both articles, you can see that while Holden seemingly wants to stick to his artistic vision (He states in terms of their follow-up: “It’d have to be something as satisfying to work on as “37,” something original) while Banky seems to think much more commercially (“Something profitable” is his response to Holden’s comments in the article). In the DVD insert, Smith states “The character of Holden is the closest to me I've ever written.” Thus, while Banky represents the urge Smith had to make the more commercial “Mallrats,” while throughout the film Holden represents his urge to want to make something more meaningful.

On the DVD, Kevin Smith admits that the original opening to the film (which was cut) was “based on a really harsh review I had read of Mallrats” and semi-jokingly mentions that “I lifted a journalists review and used it as dialogue.” The scene shows Banky excited about issue 2 of “Bluntman and Chronic” coming out while Holden is quite the opposite. Banky teases him for his “commercial self loathing,” and tells him “we’ve got the rest of our lives to be *artists*.” Holden tells him “not to forget that we’re better than this.” When they get to the counter, run by View Askew reoccurring characters Steve-Dave Pulasti and Walt Grover the Fan Boy, they begin trashing their comic. Stating things such as they’re just “fucking no talents that got lucky” and that their first comic was “mediocre with a few spiky bits of dialogue” and that once they got their “foot in the door of the business” they turn out “a piece of shit like Bluntman and Chronic.” They make mention of how “that little stoner” pulled out the Stinky Palm in the last issue, an obvious reference to the famous scene in “Mallrats.” Walt also refers to “dick and poopie jokes,” a term Smith often uses to describe his own work in his usual self-deprecating fashion.

In a scene early in the film, when Holden and the main female character Alyssa Jones (played by Joey Lauren Adams), who in the film independently publishes her comic, Idiosyncratic Routine, are having a discussion over darts, they seem to have an “artistic vs. commercial” discussion. Holden recounts how his grandmother once told him that “the big bucks are in the dick and fart jokes.” Alyssa responds jokingly by saying “The cry from the heart of a real artist trapped in commercial hell, pitying his good fortune.”

In the extended version of the scene (also cut from the theatrical film) in which Banky and Holden go to discuss a deal for a “Bluntman and Chronic” animated series for MTV, which features their lawyer (and Kevin Smith’s actual lawyer) John Sloss (playing a character named John Selic). Banky and their lawyer discuss how great it was that he “sold us out” and they start a little “money and power and money and power” chant. Holden goes on about it’ll be all “Glossy and mainstream” and how’d they “lose any artistic credibility we ever had.”

In the scene in which Holden and Alyssa are walking through the park, Holden is discussing his disdain of the idea of a Bluntman and Chronic cartoon series. He states “I know this sounds pretentious as hell, but I’d like to think of us as artists and I’d get back to doing something more personal like the first book.” When asked when he plans to get along to that, he says “When I have something personal to say.”

After that scene, the theme begins to play second fiddle to the unique developing love story between Alyssa and Holden, although in the Jay and Silent Bob scene Jay states that Bluntman and Chronic (the characters based on them) aren’t like them at all, “All slapsticky and shit running around like a couple of dickheads” saying shit like “snoochie boochies.” Then states, “Who the fuck talks like that? That is fucking baby talk!” Which is a reference to Mallrats, which saw the Jay and Bob characters being over-the-top, taking part in huge stunts and spouting off gimmicky phrases, while their appearance in “Chasing Amy” sees them acting more like they did in “Clerks.” Also, Silent Bob tells a story about a girl he once lost named Amy that is rather similar to the situation that Holden goes through, which was the inability to deal with the past of their significant others. He states that she was the one true love he’s had, and that he’s spent every day since they broke up “chasing Amy.”

The final scene, perhaps the most important to this theme, has Holden bumping into both Banky and Alyssa one year later at a comic con. While Banky has begun writing and drawing “Baby Dave,” a comic that seems similar in the fashion of Bluntman and Chronic (A fan tells him “Love those dick jokes man, love em” in regards to “Baby Dave”). While Holden shows Alyssa his new comic, a self-financed comic that had a limited pressing titled…you guessed it…”Chasing Amy,” which is totally about the relationship between the two. When Alyssa says it seems like a “personal story,” Holden responds that he “finally had something personal to say.”

Kevin states the following in the DVD insert:

”It's no secret that the origins of 'Amy' reside in my relationship with Joey. Granted, she's not gay, and I've never fallen in love with a lesbian, but the movie did grow out of my temporary inability to deal with Joey's past.”

Thus, Kevin’s relationship with Joey Lauren Adams’, which ended in similar (yet less bitter) circumstances, helped inspire him to write and film “Chasing Amy,” which, like the comic that Holden writes in the book, was a significant commercial step back from “Mallrats,” (the film’s $250,000 budget was 1/24th of the budget for “Mallrats”) and was indeed…a very personal story.

Chasing Amy, a 1997 romantic dramedy by Kevin Smith, is a very flawed movie, but also a very powerful movie. Smith brings his signature style -- quick, witty dialogue mixed with stoner humour -- to the LGBT scene, and digs a little deeper than usual.

Ben Affleck stars as Holden McNeil, an uptight comic book artist who makes his living on "dick and fart jokes" while he tries to think of better comic ideas. He lives with his inker, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), who is totally satisfied with the dick and fart jokes. A running subplot in the film concerns Banky's desire to turn their comic books into a cartoon series, which Holden is reluctant to do because he feels it will make him into even less of a "true artist".

During all this, Holden falls in love with fellow artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), who draws a less successful but more artistically-fulfilling comic book. Unfortunately for Holden, he only finds out after falling in love that Alyssa is a lesbian. They can only be friends, so Holden tries to let it go and do just that. He fails, as anyone would, but so does she. Even though she's supposed to be a lesbian, Alyssa falls in love with Holden and the two start dating.

The rest of the movie is a really harsh and realistic look at relationships, sexuality, and art, which I won't spoil here. The characters are engaging and relatable while still being very funny; no one person stands out as being "comic relief", as everyone gets their fair share of punchlines and witty dialogue. The plot is excellent and treads some serious ground without becoming too angsty -- an important quality in any story. It all works very well to provide a satisfying experience -- a movie with deep characters, big laughs, and a plot that should leave an impact on the audience, no matter how they interpret it.

There are minor gripes to be had with the execution, however. The script drags at times and loses a lot of its humour as the film goes on. There are a few too many dramatic monologues from the characters, especially in the third act. Although the acting is very good for the most part, some of these are a bit too on-the-nose to make sense.

One monologue that does work especially well is given by Alyssa about two thirds of the way into the movie. As she lies in bed with Holden, she talks to him about her sexual identity and experimentation -- in such an insightful way that it makes me wonder how a straight man could have written the screenplay. This dialogue in particular is what makes Chasing Amy worth watching. You'll have to watch the movie to understand -- a quotation simply doesn't have the same impact.

Still, there is one huge problem that looms over the movie and almost ruins it for me. This is a problem I have with the film's message. Chasing Amy is a movie about a lesbian who falls in love with a man, but the movie excludes a certain word entirely from its dialogue-heavy script. Not once does a character use the word "bisexual" in the entire film -- even though Alyssa clearly is.

Alyssa's self-identification as lesbian is all because she doesn't want to be ostracized by her gay friends. It's an unfortunate identity crisis brought on by our society's implicit acceptance of monosexuality over bisexuality. It's a bad thing. The only thing worse than being gay in a straight world is being bi in a gay world, which is a message that the character of Alyssa conveys quite well -- but only in implication. The film refuses to use the b-word.

Bisexual erasure exists -- to many, many people, bisexuality is a "phase" that people will eventually snap out of. Sometimes being bisexual is seen as a cheat, like an unfair advantage that should be discouraged. Attitudes like this cause people to be pigeonholed into the discrete categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality, all depending on the situation. This is shown clearly in the scene where Alyssa tells her friends that she is dating Holden. To Alyssa's friends, she is "selling out" by allowing herself to be attracted to men -- as if she's straight now and everything previous was just a lie.

Chasing Amy seems to be making a deal with the audience to accept Alyssa's sexuality for what it is -- and to combat bisexual erasure. But by leaving out the b-word entirely, the film paradoxically supports this attitude. Many people -- gay and straight alike -- misinterpret Chasing Amy as a movie that shows how the right man can turn a lesbian straight. By obfuscating the real meaning and refusing to make its point clear, Kevin Smith panders to audiences who only want to see this misinterpretation.

It's still a great movie that has a lot to say about sexual identity, but it doesn't really make an effort to teach the audience anything. It just preaches to the choir. It could have done more than that with minimal effort.

I just watched Chasing Amy again for the oh... seventh or eighth time last night. Actually I watched it off the aforementioned Criterion DVD (Criterion rocks BTW).

The problem -- besides breaking down like a wimpering four year old like I always do during Ben Affleck's "speech in the rain" -- is that I had terrible dreams of longing for my ex-wife. The kind of lucid dream where I half expected her to be lying next to me when I woke up. The kind of shit that fucks up your whole day. I've got a fresh mental image of her plastered just inside my eyelids. I can't blink without seeing her today.

If I believed in god, I'd pray that that woman wasn't my Amy. Hell, if she is, that's proof that God does not exist, or at least that I'm going into the third biblical testament with sufferings that make Job look like Bill Gates' kid.

Nah, not even an omnipotent power would have the cajones to pull that one on me. I'm chalking this one up to lack of reefer last night. Just to be safe though, I'm watching Mallrats instead tonight.

I thought I liked the characters in this movie at first, then I realised that I dislike just about everyone but Banky.

No, really. Alyssa annoyed me right off. What a hypocrite. "Oh, it's so wrong when straight guys hit on us lesbians!" If I had a buck for every time a lesbian tried to convert a straight girl ... this sort of thing has to cut both ways. Holden wanting her is nothing to get pissed off about. I've heard the "lesbians have already been with men and know it isn't for them" counterargument and I'm singularly unimpressed. First off, not all lesbians have been with men, and some of those straight girls they are trying to convert have already tried women and decided it isn't for them.

Hooper hits the mark when he mentions how accepting everyone is of lesbians and their antics. I'm sorry, but they don't get to define how relationshps should be. There's no magic sign that says, "Of all people, you are the keepers of how this kind of thing should go." Men and women, straight, gay, bi, or whatever, it's an equal share.

Also, she's a liar. Sure, it's a sin of omission (or maybe it is stronger than that, I don't recall if she actually said that she had never been with a man). I don't think you have to put your entire sexual resume up for grabs when you date someone, but if you're claiming to be one thing and leaving out "fingercuffs" and a whole lot more, you're not being upfront when you're going to put on the big black triangle.

And, as misguided as Holden is in thinking a threeway is going to put him into the same realm as Alyssa is, breaking up with him over it is damned silly. You can't just say, "I was going through this growth experience" and then imply that your lover will never quite reach your sexual enlightenment.

Holden is a bit of a schmuck for not calling Alyssa on some of the aforementioned crap and none too brilliant for thinking that a threeway is going to put him on the same level.

Banky, on the other hand, is a steadfast friend who would do just about anything to keep his friendship alive. Talk about your unsung heroes.

"Soulmates" come and go more often than you think, but a rock solid friend is a treasure. The saddest part of the film to me was that everyone was convinced that he should pine after this long-lost love, as if there were one and only one perfect girl for him. What should have put tears in his beer is the fact that he managed to trash a friendship.

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