director/writer/editor: Kevin Smith; cinematographer: David Klein; cast: Ben Affleck (Holden), Joey Lauren Adams (Alyssa), Jason Lee (Banky), Dwight Ewell (Hooper); Runtime: 113; Miramax Films; 1997)
“Not everything worked or made sense, but the characters and their problems seemed real.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This romantic comedy about the love life of comic book writers feels like a sitcom because that is what it basically is, not withstanding that it pushes the envelope further out by having characters who are more sexually active than the usual sitcom. Its story is also a bit more arresting, but its strongest asset is the quick-witted and acerbic dialogue it brings to the table by its capable cast who are able to deliver the punch lines.
At a comic book fair in NYC, comic book writers and longtime friends, Holden (Ben) and Banky (Jason), are signing autographs for their hit comic “Bluntman and Chronic.” In this scene we get a good dose of the ambiance of the comic book world and we get a chance to see what their readers are like and of how serious the writers are about the work they do. We learn that they want to be looked upon as artists and not to be taken for intellectual lightweights just because they work in the comic book business.
A comic book writer, Alyssa (Joey), is introduced to Holden and Banky by another comic book writer, Hooper (Dwight), who poses as a black militant, hiding from his comic book audience that he is gay.
Holden falls for Alyssa thinking they have much in common since they both come from the same New Jersey suburban town but what he doesn’t realize, at first, is that she is a lesbian who is unwilling to get into a relationship with a man. Their first meeting, over a game of darts, gives Holden what he calls a “shared moment.” Banky has a blast with this explanation, in ribbing his partner.
The would-be lovers must take risks to make their relationship work. Holden feels that he must be with Alyssa, no matter what. He has led a sheltered, somewhat, nerdy life till now, still living in the Jersey suburbs. While Alyssa is wild and alluring. She is very sexy, having a deep-throaty voice and an open manner that makes it easy to talk to her. But, having led a very active sexual life, she comes with a checkered past. Holden is able to face up to her lesbian affairs but has difficulty in reconciling her reckless sex with multiple male partners whom she does not even care about. And it disturbs him that he has to find this out through gossip and not from her; especially, when she seems to make such a big thing about honesty in a relationship. Smith does an excellent job in showing the doubts men have about being with a loose woman who they are smitten with. Holden is not a liberated hero, but it is his flaws that give him credibility as he searches for the truth about himself.
The twist in this story comes about in the part Holden’s wise guy partner plays in trying to destroy his relationship with Alyssa, out of jealousy. The relationship between the three of them becomes an awkward one, as they all battle the mundane worries most people have in regards to love affairs, friendships, and how it will affect them and their careers.
Chasing Amyis a moral fable. The title of the film is derived from the story the director himself tells to Holden, as he portrays a character called Silent Bob. He tells them a story about a girl named Amy. She ran away because he didn’t know how to deal with her and he ended up losing the only girl he loved. This scene was not needed, as the story itself was simple enough to follow without this further explanation.
Not everything worked or made sense, but the characters and their problems seemed real. And, the dialogue hit the mark more often than not. This is Smith’s third film about the travails of young people growing up in New Jersey and influenced by “pop” culture. What I didn’t like about the film is that despite its attempts not to be viewed as a sitcom that is exactly what this film is, even if its mature story line adds more weight to it.
Smith’s film does give us a real sense of a relationship and the struggle it takes to make it work, but there is still an air of superficiality about its presentation.
REVIEWED ON 1/13/99 GRADE: C+