Review by Michael Jacobson
Available separately or as part of the Kevin Smith 3-Movie Collection box set
Stars: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight
Director: Kevin Smith
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2009
"I love you. I always will. Know that...
But I AM NOT YOUR F--KING WHORE."
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 picture.
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 budget.
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, thoughtful note.
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 90s, 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.
This is back to a more low-budgeted effort from Kevin Smith, and as such, it doesn't quite offer the visual flair of more mainstream films, but still, this high definition transfer is quite an improvement over previous incarnations. Though images don't really ring out with much sense of depth, the coloring is quite good, and the detail levels, particularly at the comic conventions, are more striking and noticeable.
As with most movies from Smith, the script is what's important, and the spoken words come through as cleanly as ever in this new DTS HD mix. Some bits of music and a big club scene add some dynamic range, but uses of the subwoofer and surround channels are minimal, though not really missed. The overall balance and blend is good, and it's everything you could ask for in this kind of presentation.
I'm guessing there were some ownership issues between Miramax and Criterion as far as the other studio's commentary, so that one is not included on this Blu-ray release. Instead, you get a new one featuring Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. Other extras brand new to this issue include the documentary "Tracing Amy", a 10 year anniversary screening Q&A with Smith and cast members, and a delightful new one on one conversation with Smith and Joey Lauren Adams looking back at the film.
There are also ten deleted scenes and outtakes, which are pretty much all good, or at least interesting. Rounding out is the original trailer.
I seem to love this movie more and more with every subsequent viewing, and this new quality Blu-ray offering from Miramax only added to the enjoyment.