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.