Perhaps stung by the initial reaction to “Mallrats”, “Chasing Amy” sees Smith hew much closer to the down-to-earth authenticity of “Clerks”, this time wrapping his profane pop-culture infused dialogue around a romantic comedy with a twist, the twist being a more expansive view of sexuality than was around in mainstream cinema at the time, and especially in Smith’s target audience.
Best friends Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) live in New Jersey where they work together on the comic book they write and part in the evening. But when Holden meets Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a convention, the friendship is put under strain as Holden falls in love. But there’s an added complication: Alyssa is a lesbian.
“Chasing Amy” sees Smith at his most lyrical in this semi-autobiographical tale of unrequited love and the raw, messy emotional risk that comes with falling in love. It may not be as laden with instantly quotable lines as some of his other work but the writing here is arguably sharper and more poignant than anything he’d done so far. It has a couple of scenes which are among my favourites in Smith’s entire oeuvre: the “Jaws” homage which sees Amy and Banky compare their histories of oral sex mishaps as Holden looks on and the wonderfully cut ice hockey match scene where Holden’s growing insecurity and jealousy finally boil over into a confrontation that’s beautifully intercut with the action on the ice.
In the film’s exploration of sexuality – and particularly bisexuality at a time when it wasn’t really acknowledged in mainstream cinema – offers plenty of opportunity for revisionist controversy and even Smith himself has acknowledged that its handling of the subject is potentially problematic but there’s a truthfulness in the way Smith has his characters explore and explode common adolescent tropes and myths about lesbianism, homosexuality and to dismiss it as clumsy and crass is to ignore that it’s genuinely written by a young man in his mid-twenties externalising his ongoing developing understanding of sex and sexuality and that it’s aimed squarely at the exact kind of nerd-bros who, like Holden himself, need to have some of their clueless preconceptions challenged and overturned. In many ways, the script embraces a sexual fluidity that feels decades ahead of its time, pushing back against a rigid binary system of attraction and while it makes missteps along the way, it’s open to the conversation in a way that’s quite unexpected and impressive.
Affleck delivers another solid performance as the insecure and increasingly jealous Holden, managing to bring both the unlikeable and likeable aspects of the character’s journey to life and keeping them in balance. Jason Lee continues to be an irresistible scene-stealer and Joey Lauren Adams is so effortlessly adorable it’s easy to sympathise with anyone falling in love with her.
Unusually, Jay and Silent Bob only appear in one scene – their least cartoony appearance – but it’s a pivotal scene for the whole movie which sees Silent Bob provide not only the movie’s title but, I suspect, a window directly into Smith’s heart itself.
A film about falling in love that’s brave enough to be honest about the pitfalls and perils of what kind be a messy, chaotic time and even braver to allow the story to end without the fairy tale happy ending which would have been a betrayal of the characters. For all the stoner comedy and fearless crudity, “Chasing Amy” confirms what anyone who’s seen “Clerks” and “Mallrats” would have long suspected: in his heart of hearts, Kevin Smith is a die-hard romantic.