It’s hard to think of a more divisive film maker than Kevin Smith. That’s not to say that he’s so high-brow that some people get his work while others don’t. Simply put, some of his films are excellent, and some of them are complete tosh. Some people find it easy to focus on the shit and discount the good work that he’s done. And that’s a shame.
One of the main things I like about him is his sporadic approach, not staying in one genre. While he has had some misses, I believe in later years we’ll look back and thank him for inspiring the course of the Marvel Universe. Until Marvel started branching off into different genres, comic book/superhero movies had become fairly stagnant in their formula. First film is the origin story, sequel is the hero becoming filled with doubt about whether they should be doing what they’re doing, and the third installment piles on a bunch of extra villains. Marvel recognised that superhero movies don’t have to just be about superheroes. You can dip your toe in to different genres, and the main character just so happens to be a superhero. Captain America: First Avenger (2011) is a war film; Winter Soldier (2014) is an espionage film; Ant-Man (2015) is ex-con pulled in to one last big job; Thor (2011) is essentially a western; and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is so blatantly a John Hughes homage that it’s well known the whole cast had to watch John Hughes movies while filming.
Smith also used Hughes for inspiration in his second outing Mallrats (1995); Clerks (1994) was inspired by Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991); Dogma (1999) is a great fun modern-day religion fantasy; and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) is basically a shot for shot remake of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). I’m not going to list them all, but you get the point. He can turn his hand to anything, with varying degrees of success.
Chasing Amy is his Rom-Com. We, like most other critics, movie-lovers, and even Smith himself, will completely ignore Jersey Girl (2004).
While the film keeps some key ingredients that were so necessary to rom-coms of the nineties like the gay best friend, the misunderstanding, and final grand gesture, it thankfully avoids the familiar tropes of prat-falls and fish-out-of-water dinner scenes with the family or a boss.
It’s a much more serious and realistic slant on what it’s like to enter in to a new relationship, focusing on the initial courtship of convincing someone that you’re worth a shot because they didn’t initially realise that they could be attracted to you. This is done through the prism of the female lead being a lesbian, and the male lead being, well, a male.
Of course, in real life sexual preference doesn’t have anything to do with it. Ben Affleck, who plays Holden McNeil, is a beautiful and wonderful man, and we’d all be lucky to just share the same airspace as him. Obviously I’m being glib, although I am a self-confessed Fan Beffleck (that’s what we call ourselves, or at least we would if I ever met another one).
Banky Edwards: You’re way too conservative for that girl. She’s been around and seen things we’ve only read about in books.
It’s not a film about a man curing lesbianism. It’s a slow cute meandering through a platonic friendship that blossoms in to love through the challenge of defying deep-routed sexual preference. Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) is willing to go against her own nature in search of love, which heavily establishes her as the hero of the movie. She’s right, at every turn, but being pushed in a direction against her will, and still seems to come out the least scathed by the end of it. She is the only character that goes through a journey of change, even though the story is predominantly seen from Holden and Banky’s (Jason Lee) perspective. They’re best friends. A relationship which can often become strained when one becomes romantically involved with a new partner. But because of the theme of the film, this is dealt with in an adult manner rather than “we don’t spend as much time together” that would be an easy crutch similar stories to fall back on.
Banky loves Holden (some say a little too much, fnarr-fnarr) and is looking out for his best friend when he warns him away. They’re from a religious, prudish upbringing, not emotionally equipped to handle the lifestyle to which they’re becoming exposed. Something Banky recognises, but Holden ignorantly rejects the notion of. This being proven to be true, and the aforementioned argument between the two men serves as the catalyst for the conflicts.
Holden vs Alyssa, and Holden vs Banky.
Smith delivers a speech as Silent Bob towards the end of the film that reveals that the film is based on his own experiences with Joey Lauren-Adams. It’s that heartfelt monologue that adds layers to the story. There’s more realism in this fiction than in a dozen seasons of Love Island (2015-).
At the time I first fell in love with this film, I was also in love with a young lady who was considerably more sexually experienced than me. So you would think that it would help me come to terms with these issues; that I might learn from Holden, or Smith’s lesson. But alas, despite repeated watching, I couldn’t make logic trump emotion. Which is why I think it’s such a good film. It’s so honest and realistic I can’t tell if it’s art imitating life or vice versa.
Holden: If this is a crush, I don’t think I could take it if the real thing ever happened.
The scene depicting Holden’s eventual solution is a little slap-dash, but leads to an honest, satisfying conclusion, and gives us the ever-excellent line “I’m not your fucking whore”.
I think Chasing Amy explores its themes maturely, and with a sense of realism that is so often disregarded when movies try to show the problems that can arise in new a relationship. Life is so rarely about overhearing someone on the phone blurting out sexual double-entendres that turns out to be completely innocent. But who among us can say that we’ve never had pangs of jealousy when hearing about a new beau’s former sexual exploits? And I feel confident that we have all at some point questioned a friendship because that friend has taken a lover that you think is a cunt.
It has some really touching moments sprinkled throughout, like Alyssa explaining in a post-coital monologue about her journey through sexuality. Or Banky mourning the obvious demise of his lifelong friendship. Or the montage leading to the final confrontation, which is backed by one of my favourite songs “Stay” by “Coal”.
And these are contrasted against some classic Smith humour, such as the moment it’s revealed Alyssa is gay, and subsequently the male lead reactions. Or Banky showing horse-porn to a child. Or Hooper X’s (Dwight Ewell) “Black-Rage” rant and subsequent prompt character U-turn.
Alyssa: I like you, Holden. I haven’t liked a man in a long time. And it’s not because I’m a man hater or something like that. It’s just been sometime that I’ve been exposed to a man that didn’t immediately live into a stereotype of some sort. And I want you to feel comfortable with me, because I’d really like us to be friends.
Several years ago I was mild acquaintances with London radio host Iain Lee. He owed me a favour one time, and I knew he had an interview coming up with Kevin Smith. Of all the things in the world, I chose to ask him about this film and its subject matter, and if he regretted making it which lead to the break-up with Adams. I can’t find a copy of that interview, and don’t want to mis-attribute a quote to him, but I believe it was something like “That’s the best question anyone has ever asked me. I hope you never know the pain of regret, but if you do, turn it in to art, and make sure that the real-life inspiration is left fairly ambiguous”.
So, look out for my upcoming novel “I still miss you, whore”.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout out to Tusk (2014) which is one of the most unsettling excellent torture-horror films in recent memory.
And Red State (2011) which out-Kevin-Smith’s Kevin Smith by mixing three genres in to one film.
Happy Birthday Kevin, you sporadic man you.