Films live or die on the strength of their scripts. Writer and
director Kevin Smith's third part of his New Jersey trilogy, CHASING
AMY, amuses, delights, and moves the audience with its highly
irreverent dialog. The trilogy's first two parts were the acclaimed,
low-budget hit CLERKS and the less successful MALLRATS.
(CHASING AMY's ending credits include "And to all the critics who
hated our last flick -- all is forgiven." Only independent filmmakers
would have the courage to call attention to their bad reviews.)
CHASING AMY offers much more than an effective screenplay. The
film's actors breathe life into characters that in other such plots
would quickly degenerate into cliches or slapstick. Instead, this
picture's population has some eminently likable people who are,
frankly, just fun to hang out with.
The film features Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams as a pair of
star-crossed lovers. Ben plays Holden McNeil, part of a cartoonist
duo. Jason Scott Lee is his friend since childhood and cartoonist
partner Banky Edwards. Banky, whose role as a mere cartoon "tracer,"
gets him no end of ridicule. Well, someone has to paint in the figures
that Holden outlines.
Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa "Finger Cuffs" Jones, gives a
breathless, almost Marilyn Monroe style, rendition of a blonde
bombshell. Seeming at first to be someone only slightly smarter than a
bimbo, her part rapidly evolves into the most complex and challenging
character in the story. An accomplished actress whose compelling
performance draws you into all her character's unpredictable twists and
The show has two parts -- starting as comedy but slowly evolving
into a touching drama. The first, and admittedly my favorite, part
relies on natural, but highly sexual conversations for the humor. The
good spirited dialog has the quick cadence of BEFORE SUNRISE, but the
language and the subject matter revolve around explicit sexual
repartee. Most of this is almost impossible to capture in a review for
general audiences. One of the few printable lines has Banky explaining
his sexual techniques to Alyssa over drinks on what looks like a double
date. He says he tells his lovers exactly what is happening, "like CNN
and the Weather Channel -- constant updates." Holden rolls his eyes as
he wonders what his Howard Stern-like partner will say next. Banky and
Alyssa even show each other their sexual war wounds. (Yes, I did not
realize these existed either.)
The simple plot of the picture moves in surprising ways, and the
film gets more mileage out of its setup than I thought possible. I
expected the script to stay with the jokes until they had long since
worn out their welcome, but part way through, it becomes obvious that
Smith has a serious story to tell about relationships.
From the first time Holden sees Alyssa, he is smitten by her
charms. As she flirts incessantly with him, the chemistry between them
is genuine and infectious. Soon the director is certain to cut to the
scene where Holden and Alyssa jump into bed together. Well, maybe not.
Holden goes to a bar where Alyssa sings a song to the one she
loves. He beams with pride as she looks his way. After her number is
over, she walks into the audience and plants a big juicy one on her
lover -- Kim (Carmen Lee). Shock would be a mild description of
In one of the plot's delicious twists, Holden and Alyssa stay
great friends and have a string of platonic dates. Alyssa probes
Holden's feeling about homosexuality. "So, you've never been curious
about men?" she inquires. "Well, I've always wondered why my father
watched Hee Haw," he responds.
After bottling up his love too long, he explodes and confesses how
much he loves her. "You are the epitome of everything I've ever looked
for in another human being," he solemnly tells her. The thought of a
straight man going for her sends her body into convulsions of anger and
How this gets resolved I will not say, but it happens before the
midpoint of the show, so most of the film occurs afterwards. In an
unpredictable story, my favorite part is how, at the end, Holden
attempts to bring closure to their myriad of difficulties. The scene
comes out of left field, but the emotions in it are raw and honest.
In a show about relationships, most of the people are either gay
or lesbian. Holden and Banky seem to be the only practicing
heterosexuals left. The chemistry and camaraderie between them could
form the subject for an entire review. Jason Scott Lee is terrifically
funny as a cheerleader for the heterosexual cause, but all three of the
leads are precious.
Kevin Smith's skills are best shown in the script. His
directorial judgments are uneven. Typical of the scenes that do not
work is the one where he interlaces a cliched hockey bloodfest with a
key confrontation between Holden and Alyssa. Smith and Scott Mosier
edited the film, and too often they fell in love with their material.
Many scenes would have been handsomer with a little trimming.
The sign of a good movie comes with your reaction when the ending
credits roll. I left the theater wishing I did not have to leave my
newly found friends. A more likable threesome I have not seen in some
CHASING AMY runs 1:41. It is rated R for explicit and constant
sexual humor and for profanity. The film would be fine for mature
teenagers. I recommend this sweet and captivating picture to you and
give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes