Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Kevin Smith, Jason Mews, Guineverve Turner, Brian O’Halloran, Matt Damon
Running Time: 105 minutes.
With this off beat but very funny romantic comedy exploring the relationship that develops between two sexually incompatible comic book artists, Kevin Smith brings his unofficial New Jersey trilogy to a close. There are numerous references to scenes, characters and locations from Smith’s previous two films, enabling audiences to place Chasing Amy into its proper context. This refreshingly honest take on gender stereotypes and sexual mores in the 1990’s redefines the clichéd formula of the romantic comedy and is probably Smith’s most accessible and enjoyable film yet.
Although Smith is working with a budget ten times larger than that of his debut film Clerks, Chasing Amy nonetheless heralds a return to that same gritty and often improvised style of film making. However this witty and wickedly irreverent comedy also possesses much more emotional depth and substance than his previous two films combined. Smith’s previous films have basically been about boys being boys, but here he looks at boys becoming men, growing up and having to deal with some of the problems and harsher realities of adulthood.
Comic book writer Holden (Ben Affleck), famous for his popular creations loosely based on the exploits of the nefarious drug dealer Silent Bob and his colourful companion Jay, finds his preconceptions about women and his own ego shaken when he meets fellow comic book artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams, from the disappointing Bio-dome, etc) at a convention. As a deep friendship blossoms between the pair, Holden is shattered to learn that Alyssa prefers women to men, but he persists with the relationship, despite the dire misgivings of Banky (Jason Lee, from Mallrats), his life long friend and room mate. Holden finds himself threatened by Alyssa’s background of sexual experimentation, and his embarrassing attempt to deal with her sordid youthful past drives her away. Unlike most mainstream romantic comedies, there’s no conventional happy ending or pat resolution to this dilemma, which gives the material a refreshingly honest, albeit downbeat feel.
Smith candidly looks at the tenuous nature of sexual relationships in this more cynical era, and he maintains a laid back, unruffled approach. Smith has an ear for the language of his generation x characters and, as usual, he has liberally peppered the script with plenty of rich profanities and ribald dialogue that will possibly offend many. Chasing Amy also contains some marvellously caustic iconoclastic diversions, such as a discussion on the sexuality of comic book characters Archie and Jughead and the inherent racism of the Star Wars trilogy. An hilarious scene in which Alyssa and Banky compare bodily injuries sustained during oral sex is also one of the highlights. Beyond the usual low brow adolescent smutty humour at which Smith is so adept there is a frankness and honesty about his exploration of sexual matters and relationships that reveal a hitherto unseen maturity in his writing. Even the characters here are more carefully developed and surprisingly well rounded. Alyssa is a much stronger female character than the misogynistic Smith normally creates – confident, poised, unapologetic, and very much in control of her life – while the outwardly confident and successful Holden has a surprising vulnerability and lack of sophistication that is exposed by his reaction towards Alyssa’s past exploits.
Smith draws strong and enthusiastic performances from an ensemble cast, many of whom have worked with him previously and are comfortable with his laid back and droll approach. Affleck plays Holden with easy going charm, while Adams is sensational as the quick-witted, feisty and sexy Alyssa, and she makes the most of her biggest and best role yet. Lee is also good as the confused Banky, resentful of his station in life (he is disparagingly referred to as a tracer while autographing a comic for a fan), and increasingly jealous of Holden’s involvement with Alyssa, whom he regards as a threat to the special friendship they have enjoyed since childhood.
Dwight Ewell (from Hal Hartley’s Flirting, etc) is wonderful and very funny as Hopper, a black comic book writer who is not what he seems on the surface. Smith again pops up briefly as the omnipresent Silent Bob, whose poignant and personal anecdote about lost love and wasted opportunity provides the film with its title.