May 26, 2011

Queer Review: Chasing Amy (1997)

Chasing Amy
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Joey Lauren Adams

Chasing Amy represents the most mature work of the bawdy and controversial Kevin Smith. Frequently crude, caustic, and absolutely hilarious, Chasing Amy will probably offend even the most liberal audience members.

When Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) is introduced to Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) by a mutual friend, Hooper X (Dwight Ewell), he finds himself falling fast in love with her. It is not long though, before Holden is shocked to discover that Alyssa is actually a lesbian and not interested in being anything other then friends with him. He eventually manages to wear her down her defenses and soon they are in a serious relationship, which upsets Holden's friend, Banky (Jason Lee).

The Queering
I can recall when I was in high school and watching Chasing Amy at a drama club cast party where the host's parents were away. I was the only one who was not drinking, so I was given the honor of controlling the remote control. Even with out being drunk, I can not recall that many movies where I laughed harder. In retrospect, the thrill at seeing something forbidden ended up being more intoxicating then any spirits could have matched.

Re-watching Chasing Amy now, many years later, I do have a somewhat different take on it. First, let me get the criticisms out of the way. Kevin Smith is the funniest writer working today in Hollywood, but I would not to be the first to point out that his directing abilities stink. Most of the scenes are poorly staged and the cinematography is crude. Also, while Joey Lauren Adams gives the most memorable, and at times, moving performance, she too often lapses into over the top histrionics. Ben Affleck and Jason Lee are not all that great either, but manage to succeed thanks to both of them giving rather charismatic and natural performances.

Chasing Amy however has more strengths then weaknesses. The characters are well developed and feel like the sort of real people one comes into contact with everyday rather than the invention of a screenwriter. This is particularly true in several scenes, such as when Alyssa and Banky compare battle wounds acquired through ill advised sexual mis-adventures or when Alyssa and Holden discuss what it means to lose ones virginity.

What is most refreshing is about Chasing Amy is the sense that Kevin Smith has the same attitude regarding political correctness that most fundamentalists have towards the anti-Christ. Hideous slurs and inappropriate language are thrown about like confetti at a parade. Through it all though, Smith manages to deliver a subversively pro-gay, pro-equality message. For example, take Hooper X who plays a black militant who screams about the white menace in order to sell comic books but is really actually a sassy black queen when out of sight of his fans. Later Hooper X has a speech where he gives a much needed bemoaning about the double discrimination faced by black queers and how his black power act is necessary for him to receive professional recognition.

Between the constant onslaught of political incorrectness and the fact that Holden does manage to sleep with Alyssa, many have argued that Chasing Amy is in fact homophobic. To me though, nothing could be more untrue. What Chasing Amy really does is revel in the sexual freedoms brought to light by Alfred Kinsey. This is also why the scene between Banky and Alyssa is noteworthy. Too often male and female promiscuity is treated differently by society, yet here, the promiscuous behaviors of a man and a woman are shown in the same light.

This is also a movie with the most sexually fluid cast of characters that I have seen. Alyssa is eventually revealed to have slept with guys other than Holden. Banky also clearly harbors feelings of some sort for Holden, which Holden acknowledges by forcefully kissing Banky in a key scene. Bisexuality is too often ignored or given short shrift by movies, yet here, Kevin Smith's uninhibited explorations of love and sexual relationships makes for some of the most compelling and hysterical queer cinema to have come out of the 90's.

Highly recommended for anyone who can laugh at (rather than be offended by) Kevin Smith's brand of crude humor.

The Rating


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