"Clerks" remains one of my favorite comedies of all time - it is lewd, crude,
off-the-wall, hilarious fun from start to finish. Kevin Smith followed his
mini-masterpiece with the abominable "Mallrats," a lewd, crude, off-the-wall
and desperately unfunny comedy with the worst casting in years - Marvel Comics
creator Stan Lee as himself, and actor Michael Rooker, both of whom couldn't
elicit a smile from my lips if they tried. I thought New Jersey native director
Kevin Smith had a fluke success and had nothing more up his sleeve to share
with the rest of us. What a surprise it is then to see Kevin Smith bounce back
with another lewd, crude, off-the-wall comedy called "Chasing Amy," and not
only is it funny, it is a real movie with tears, laughs, truth and emotions.
"Chasing Amy" is the third film in Smith's New Jersey trilogy, and he ends it
with a comic bang.
Ben Affleck and Jason Lee star as two comic-book artists, Holden and Banky, who
struggle to get noticed at a comic-book convention with their amiable comic
"Bluntman and Chronic." Holden is immediately entranced by a blonde,
squeaky-voiced female cartoonist, Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). She asks
him out to the Meow Mix club, and when Holden meets her, he discovers she is
a...lesbian. Naturally, Holden is upset by this but Banky starts asking stupid
questions when he sees Alyssa necking with another female: "When are we going
to get a chance to see this shit live?" Despite their obviously different
sexual preferences, Holden decides to become friendly with Alyssa, and in a
poignantly emotional scene, Holden confesses that he's in love with her and
wants more than friendship. Alyssa bursts out and starts screaming at him for
denying her her sexual nature and, of course, they kiss in the rainy night.
What's amazing about this sequence is how much emotional truth there is despite
some overacting from Adams - she makes the scene her own and it is gripping.
"Chasing Amy" never steps wrong from scene to scene in establishing these three
principal characters because the characterizations are balanced seamlessly
between comedy, drama and truth. Ben Affleck makes an affable hero as the
goateed Holden, and if his acting is minimalist at best, he makes the character
naive and obtuse enough to render some sympathy for his misconceptions about
Alyssa. Jason Lee works better in a supporting role than a lead role as the
comic foil, and he is bitingly funny to watch as he grows more and more
contempt towards Holden's relationship with Alyssa. Joey Lauren Adams has the
more difficult role (You try and play a lesbian who has to mend her ways in
order to please a heterosexual.) and she pulls it off beautifully because she
makes Alyssa real, funny and tender without ever resorting to cliches or
needless stereotype posturing. Her voice might be a turnoff (not quite like
Melanie Griffith's) but her character is not - she is the most vividly real
human being we have seen in Kevin Smith's ouevre by far. My favorite scene is
when Alyssa explains to Holden that penetration of the vagina doesn't occur
only with a penis - she goes through a laundry list of different methods and
then she explains what sex between two women entails. It is a classic Smith
scene and Adams plays it with just the right note.
There is able support from Dwight Ewell as a gay cartoonist who tries to
explain to Banky that the comic character Archie is in fact "gay." And let's
not leave out the return of Jay and Silent Bob (both played by Jason Mewes and
Kevin Smith who appeared in "Clerks" and "Mallrats") as they try to understand
what Holden is going through - Silent Bob gives his theory when he explains
what "chasing amy" signifies.
"Chasing Amy" is a surprisingly great movie and better than what I expected,
even from Smith. It is thoughful, honest, superbly funny and heartbreaking.
Smith may not have a visual style yet but he knows how to write characters with
panache and humor. Kudos for making us forget the imbecility of "Mallrats," and
for making us remember the comic brilliance of "Clerks."
Copyright © 1997 Jerry Saravia