Review by Michael Jacobson
Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell
Director: Kevin Smith
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: June 13, 2000
Chasing Amy is a film I treasure.
I became an instant fan of writer/director Kevin Smith when I saw his
first movie, the $27,000 black and white uproarious comedy Clerks.
It was a film that went on to garner a loyal audience for whom the
movie was Bible truth, and gave Smith a chance at a big budgeted Hollywood
That second film, Mallrats, didn’t pan out
financially. It was a terrifically
funny film, but perhaps a little less focused than Clerks had been.
It also seemed that mainstream audiences weren’t quite ready for
Smith’s acerbic wit and observations about twenty-something slackers.
The movie would eventually find its audience in subsequent video releases
and recoup its costs, but Smith, who has been quoted as saying he hates to lose
money for anybody, took it as a cue to return to filmmaking with a more modest
Thus, from the $7 million fiasco of Mallrats, Smith
wrote and directed the third film in his “Jersey Trilogy”, the $200,000 Chasing
Amy. It was a return to a more
grass roots style of movie making for Smith, but it also boldly went into newer
and stronger directions. Sure, it
was just as funny as you would expect from him.
But what I didn’t expect when I saw the movie for the first time was
the amazing sense of drama Smith brought to his story and characters.
He created a love story that was not only comical, but one of the most
frank and honest I’d ever seen on the screen, with moments that were so
beautiful and powerful that I’ve never forgotten them.
Moments that worked so well because they weren’t about a filmmaker
flexing his artistic muscles. They
grew out of real scenarios and real emotions, from some very real characters.
Holden (Affleck) and Banky (Lee) are long time best
friends, roommates, and partners in a successful comic book venture, Bluntman
and Chronic (based on the Jay and Silent Bob characters, who show up for a
key appearance later in the film). Everything
seems to be smooth sailing for the two, until the arrival of a girl in their
lives: fellow comic book artist
Alyssa (Adams). But this isn’t
the typical love triangle you might expect. Alyssa is a lesbian. (In
a scene that closely mimics Jaws, Banky and Alyssa compare injuries
they’ve both accrued from being with women).
She’s pretty, smart, and fun to be with, and soon, she
and Holden become fast friends, but complications are just around the corner:
Holden begins to fall in love with her.
Despite her sexual orientation, he finds in her everything he’s ever
wanted in a girl. The obvious
complications don’t help, nor does Banky’s mounting incense and frustration
over Holden’s attentiveness toward Alyssa.
In an unforgettable scene, one where you could have heard a
pin drop from the film going crowd, Holden finally breaks down and confesses his
feelings to Alyssa, which opens up even bigger cans of worms.
And Smith, recognizing that love is exceptionally fragile when prejudices
are lined up against it, doesn’t take the obligatory romance movie route of
marching his characters towards an inevitable happy ending.
Rather…and this is the genius of Smith…he almost makes it seem as
though his characters have their own choice in the matter:
rise above, or fall flat. They
make their choices, and the consequences follow.
If there is a flaw in the film, for me, it’s a scene near
the end: an attempt at a resolution
between the three main characters that just doesn’t ring true.
Every time I see the film, I get a different reaction from it, but none
of them are good. Sometimes I
cringe. Sometimes I chuckle.
Many times I just feel a little sad and hurt that we’ve followed these
people down a twisting and complex road of love, pain, and anger only to end up
where it did. I can’t help but
wonder sometimes if Smith has a problem with resolutions.
If you’ve ever seen the original ending of Clerks, you realize
just how bad one of his ideas for an ending can be.
Mallrats had a finale involving a goofy game show rip-off, which
didn’t matter much because of the carefree comical attitude of the film. Even Dogma tends to throw me off track in the final
stretch. In all fairness to Smith
and Chasing Amy though, the derailment is only temporary. It finds the track again in time to end on a solid,
I feel like I’m doing injustice to Smith’s comedy,
which is as plentiful as you might expect—simply subservient to the drama in
this film. My favorite touch is
Dwight Ewell as Hooper X—a gay black man who assumes a tough, militant posture
in public to sell his comic book, White Hating Coons.
He’s a funny, insightful, and even slightly sympathetic character
as chief observer to the plight of Holden and Alyssa. There’s also a discussion he has with Banky over the sexual
orientation of Archie and Jughead that has to be heard to be believed!
And, of course, the obligatory appearance of Jay and Silent
Bob (Mewes and Smith), who show up in all of Smith’s films.
This movie features their shortest on screen appearance, but one of their
most memorable, as Silent Bob offers some words of wisdom on Holden’s
relationship scenario, “chasing Amy”. And,
of course, Smith fans can look for the bonus references to his other films, and
even delight to a Spike Lee styled shot that takes place in front of the Quick
Stop store, the primary setting for Clerks.
Chasing Amy went on to become one of the most
profitable films of 1997—having such a low production cost left lots of space
for pure profit (see: The Blair
Witch Project), but it should also be remembered as one of the most
important. It proves, as have many
other successful indie films of the 90’s, that with a clear vision, smart
script and good acting, you don’t need to blow millions to make a strong,
intelligent, honest, and unforgettable movie.
With Kevin Smith’s return to a more low-budget style of
filmmaking, the visuals in this movie aren’t quite as good as his major studio
project, Mallrats…however, that’s no fault of this Criterion
transfer, which is actually quite good. The
movie suffers from a bit of spotting and debris noticeable on the film itself,
and for the most part, shots don’t seem to have been constructed with specific
attention to coloring or image detail…it’s a straightforward storytelling
style of filmmaking. For the most
part, though, coloring is very good and natural and images are sharp and clear,
and there certainly are no complaints about compression artifacts or undue
graininess or other image problems. This
anamorphic transfer was also produced under the supervision of cinematographer
David Klein. All in all, a very
This is a dialogue oriented movie, so one shouldn’t
expect too much from a 5.1 mix: most
of the multi channel use comes from the score and songs, which project loudly
and clearly using both front and rear stages.
The aforementioned dialogue is always clean and clear, however, and
mostly from the forward channels. There’s
not much in the way of discreet signals for effects, but that’s because of the
nature of the film, not the audio transfer.
The .1 channel again is mostly used for the music, giving it a little
more depth to the bottom end. Again,
a fine representation of a film that uses its technology modestly.
What a package! For
those of you familiar with Criterion’s laser disc release of this title, you
get it all here, too, including a special DVD intro from Kevin Smith.
He dryly tells you that if you bought the DVD after buying the LD
version, “you’ve been hoarked”, and also makes a formal apology for
his…er, famous sound byte on the commentary track, which was recorded for the
laser disc and where he states, “F—k DVD”.
Don’t be too mad at him for that, though, because in his new intro, he
admits he was wrong and even confesses to owning and loving a DVD player now, so
he’s seen the light. The rest of the commentary track, which features Smith, Ben
Affleck, Jason Mewes, editor Scott Mosier and others, is a terrific listen:
funny and informative. If
you’ve listened to other commentary tracks by Smith and crew, you know they
tend to be anything-goes sessions. There
are ten deleted scenes and outtakes, which are pretty much all good, or at least
interesting, with each one introduced by Smith and one or two of his comrades. There is a guide to all the characters in the Jersey trilogy
in booklet form, and a trailer. Oh,
and those color bars? Turn ‘em on
and leave ‘em on for a minute for an extra bonus.
A sweet package!
It had been reported that Miramax and Criterion had been involved in lengthy discussions over who would get to produce the Chasing Amy DVD. Criterion, who had the incredible laser disc package all ready to go, was trying to negotiate the DVD rights from Miramax, who, in turn, was attempting to secure the rights to the supplemental material from Criterion for their OWN disc version. Personally, I’m happy Criterion won out and released the disc, because it’s indicative of the kind of excellent work they’re known for, as opposed to the hit-and-miss at best attitude of the Disney studios toward DVD. Fans of Smith shouldn’t pass up this quality offering, but even casual observers ought to consider giving this smart, funny, and touching film a spin in their players.