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Chasing Amy

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Chasing Amy

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jason Lee
Director: Kevin Smith
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: April 1997
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Joey Lauren Adams, Dwight Ewell, Carmen Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

If making a convincing love story between a heterosexual male and a lesbian sounds like an impossible task, then writer-director Kevin Smith has accomplished the impossible with the final installment of his New Jersey trilogy, Chasing Amy. A funny, raunchy comedy with both intelligence and heart to spare, Clerks wunderkind Smith has rebounded in a big way from the creative meltdown that was 1995's Mallrats.

The dark shadow of that unsatisfying sophomore effort hangs over the opening moments of Amy. We see the credits roll over comic book panels and covers of the comic publications Wizard, Comic Shop News, and Comic Buyer's Guide, which is more than a little reminiscent of the parade of comic book covers that opened Mallrats. One of the biggest miscalculations in Mallrats was not so much its large use of comic-related humor and references but its use of references that only comic fans (such as myself) would understand, and for a moment I thought Smith was repeating his previous mistake--I was familiar with these publications; I got the reference, but did everyone else? Immediately following the credit roll is a sequence taking place in a New York comic convention, and, ironically enough, here is where my fears were put to rest. While the comic-related references and humor are abound, the jokes are accessible to anyone who has never picked up a comic book in his or her life. It's as if Smith is righting the wrong he committed in Mallrats.

With the atonement for that sin behind him, Smith wastes no time in plunging deep into fresh new territory. It is at this convention that New Jersey comic creator Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) meets fellow writer/artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), and there is an instant chemistry and, as Holden sees it, an attraction. As it turns out, however, Alyssa is a lesbian, and despite Holden's initial reservations--and his very strong sexual feelings for her--the two become very close (but platonic) friends, sparking the chaste (or is it?) jealousy of Holden's best friend and collaborator, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee).

The story already sounds pretty complicated, but Smith's terrific script has many more twists in store, not to mention laughs. Viewers like myself who loved the no-budget riot Clerks but were left cold by Mallrats will be happy to know that Smith has indeed recaptured his comedic touch. But, most importantly, the frank (and, for some, maybe too frank), often foul-mouthed dialogue is not only funny but sounds convincing. The laugh lines sound anything but scripted, capturing the spontaneity of actual conversation; the same can be said of the more serious passages, which are astoundingly full of truth and honest emotion.

There is also more to Smith's writing than the dialogue. The characters are fascinating in just how true-to-life they are. For example, Holden fancies himself a liberal thinker, but, of course, he's quite as liberal as he believes himself to be. Late in the picture, Holden is disturbed by details of Alyssa's past, which naturally puts a crimp in their relationship. Looking plainly from a moviegoer's standpoint, Holden's treatment of Alyssa seems off-base, but his actions are completely in line with how a real person would react in a similar situation. Like many other films, there's a big scene where our protagonist offers a solution to all that ails him and his friends, but Smith does not serve up the convention where a character gains greater maturity, understanding, and insight overnight as he or she only can in the movies. Smith doesn't forget who Holden is, and as such he respects the viewers' intelligence.

Of course, the actors deserve a lot of credit for making the people and situations in Chasing Amy so involving. The likable Affleck does a good job of capturing Holden's insecurities with himself and others. Adams, who can be described as what you get when you blend Cameron Diaz, Renee Zellweger, Ellen Barkin, and the voice of Jennifer Tilly, takes longer to warm up to, mainly because of her squeaky, Tilly-esque voice. In the end, though, she pulls off the difficult role of Alyssa--the heart of the film, if you will--without a hitch, displaying a comic flair as well as an emotional depth never hinted at in her heretofore most visible work: a guest spot on Fox's Married...with Children and regular gigs on the short-lived Married... spinoffs Top of the Heap and Vinnie and Bobby. Lee, who was the best thing about Mallrats, brings more of his hilarious smart-aleck charm to the brash Banky. Dwight Ewell has some choice moments as Hooper, a gay black comic creator who acts like a black militant for better publicity; and Jason Mewes and Smith himself contribute a memorable cameo as the Jersey trilogy's recurring characters, Jay and Silent Bob, respectively, the latter of whom isn't so silent this time around (in fact, he's the voice of reason).

Most people will see Chasing Amy as Kevin Smith's return to form, but in doing so they may ignore just what a huge leap this film is for him in his maturity as a filmmaker. It's everything Clerks was (and Mallrats wasn't) and more--funny, fearless... and profoundly moving. Never did I ever think I'd come away from a Smith film with a lump in my throat.

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