As much as I ragged on Requiem for a Dream before, I don’t regret watching it. I can’t say the same for Chasing Amy, one of the most irritating movies I’ve ever seen.
You see, I’m moving at the end of the month, and I’ve been taking breaks from packing by watching some random DVDs I got for free. Chasing Amy is going straight to the used DVD store. (spoilers … although if you watch the first 10 minutes, you’ll know exactly where this story is going)
In a nutshell, Chasing Amy is a juvenile male fantasy about a clueless dude who falls in love with a lesbian (but she’s actually bisexual, because all women are just looking for the right guy, amirite?).
Holden (seriously) and Banky are two comic book writers who achieve indie comix success with Bluntman and Chronic, who are apparently modelled after Smith’s recurring characters Jay and Silent Bob.
Holden (Ben Affleck, doing his best Keanu Reeves impression) meets Alyssa at a comi-con and instantly falls for her (no, her name isn’t Amy—the title comes from a completely unsubtle anecdote told by Silent Bob later in the film). He’s thrilled when she invites him to a club, BUT THE JOKE IS, IT’S A LESBIAN CLUB! Hilarious. Actually, the joke is that Holden and Banky (Jason Lee) don’t clue in that it’s a lesbian club (“Hey, there are a lot of chicks here!”) until Alyssa starts making out with a girl. Exposition: these guys are idiots.
So, despite the fact that Alyssa is a confident, well-adjusted woman who seems comfortable with her lesbian sexuality, she embarks on a relationship with Holden, presumably because he is irresistibly charming.
I thought he was a sanctimonious prick with a stupid goatee, buthat’sjustme.
Despite the fact that he spends most of the movie smugly reprimanding Banky’s homophobic quips, Holden soon finds out that he’s not as open-minded as he thought he was.
He’s pretty much okay with the fact that Alyssa has been with girls (although it clearly weirds him out), but what really sends him over the edge is her promiscuity in high school. Yes, that’s right. He’s a man in his mid-twenties thrown into a moral panic because of his girlfriend’s teenage sexual experimentation.
In case it isn’t already abundantly clear that Holden is an uptight slut-shamer, Jay and no-so-Silent Bob come along to explain things VERY CLEARLY so we understand what’s going on. Actually, Jay just says a bunch of mysoginistic and homophobic bullshit, while Silent Bob tells a story that’s similar to Holden’s romantic predicament, because Holden is the only one thick enough not to realize how narrow-minded he is.
All of this culminates in an insanely awkward attempt to get both Alyssa and Banky in bed with him at the same time, because this would somehow make up for the gulf in sexual experience between him and Alyssa and neatly tie a bow around the homoerotic tension between him and Banky.
What? Does anyone actually behave like this?
Really, what annoyed me the most about this movie is that Smith never seems to be able to rise above the hangups and societal pitfalls that he’s trying to undo. Or maybe he’s not trying to undo them at all. I suppose there’s something noble in accepting one’s own limitations, but I don’t understand the point in embracing one’s inner prejudiced prude. To me, this movie felt like a paean to over-privileged complacency all the way through.
To be fair, I’ll give credit where credit is due. Joey Lauren Adams was great as Alyssa. She’s like a badass Renee Zellweger with a sultry-squeaky voice (I didn’t think that was possible, but it is). Alyssa is cool and fun, and I don’t believe that she would actually waste her time hanging around losers like Holden and Banky.
Unfortunately, she’s saddled with the task of explaining femimism and queer identity to Holden in long, clunky rants, presumably because that’s the only way to get it through his thick skull.
Yet in this love triangle, Alyssa is the wedge that comes between between Banky and Holden’s homosocial bond. She has to be excised in order for their male friendship to be restored (indicated by Holden and Banky’s silent reconciliation at the comi-con in the last scene). Basically I’m saying that Alyssa is a wasted character in this movie—she deserved better.
If this movie was about Alyssa, it would have been tolerable, but instead, it’s about Holden, so it’s a self-indulgent borefest. Because, you see, Chasing Amy is all about Kevin Smith’s relationship with Joey Lauren Adams. As Smith puts it,
I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen.
Just like how Holden writes a comic about his relationship with Alyssa instead of actually talking to her about it. It’s all well and good to explore the idea that art can provide a therapeutic catharsis, but like everything else in this movie, Holden’s method of dealing with his epiphany (if you can even call it that) feels self-serving and empty.
I definitely think it’s problematic to read a fictional piece as a transparent biographical work, but in this case it goes a long way towards explaining why Chasing Amy feels so painfully mastubatory. I don’t have a problem with the basic premise, I just think that Kevin Smith lacks the storytelling finesse to pull it off. I guess that’s kind of his schtick, but it’s all a bit too self-absorbed for me to enjoy.
I’ve already written way too much about this movie that I disliked, so I’ll just close with a comment. Interestingly, Chasing Amy was released as part of the Criterion Collection. Basically, Criterion releases special editions of “important classic and contemporary films.”
I think it’s interesting that Criterion felt Chasing Amy is as “important” as, say, Seven Samurai or In The Mood For Love—and I’m not being sarcastic.
Obviously, coming up with a list of great films is insanely subjective and guaranteed to ignite debate, and there are lots of other questionable (in my mind) films on their list. It just makes me wonder about the selection process and who gets to decide which films are “important” and according to what criteria.
Clearly, there’s a caché to being included in the Criterion Collection, and some of this film snob cred is being bestowed upon Chasing Amy, along with a lot of cannonical “classics.”
Does this take the sheen off the other films? Who decides what’s a “classic”? Who am I to judge, anyway? All things to think about.