Homegrown Heaven
Almost everything is wonderful in Kevin Smith's new movie

Movie Writer

Talk to me, talk to me, Kevin Smith may be the talkingest writer-director working in American movies now, and God bless him for it. In "Chasing Amy," there is precious little "action" in the strictest sense, because Smith's people are way too involved in conversing.Whole scenes go by without a body moving more than a bit, say from one record bin to another at Jack's Music in Red Bank, or to and fro on a swing at Victory Park in Rumson. The idea of "Chasing Amy" is that through talking, the people of Smith's movie universe will discover what they want and maybe even figure out who they are, or at least inch toward self awareness. Growing pains are all over this warm and loving movie, the third in Smith's New Jersey trilogy ("Clerks," "Mallrats,"). It was shot almost entirely in Monmouth County. Smith's a Highlands native and Red Bank resident.

The the folks who are facing up to or walking away from self knowledge are charming, acerbic, energetic and verbal 20somethings. Holden and his roommate-best friend, Banky, inhabit a cool lofty-like apartment and create comic books. They're not exactly arrested development cases, but they need work. Another comic book creator, Alyssa, blond and vivacious with a voice laced with honey, arrives to rehabilitate the boys. She's an outspoken lesbian with a heterosexual past from "Middletown, New Jersey" as she sags, but she falls in love with tall, bearded Holden anyway. They are a chatty couple, forever talking out their feelings and experiences. Why are they so appealing? Because what they say -- from Smith's headand heart -- is the way real people think and talk, and most specifically, the way they sound around here. It's an odd thrill hearing "voices" that sound like yourself.

It's eclually exciting hearing ideas expressed on the big screen. When was the last time that happened in an American movie? Nada. You have to check out Eric Rohmer and the French filmmaking crowd for that kind of kick. The triangle of Alyssa-Holden-Banky is headed for a bumpy ride; the guys spat over the wisdom of Holden loving a lesbian; Holden and Alyssa spar about her gamy straight sex days, and Alyssa and Banky battle over possession of Holden. The talk gets raunchy, racy, explicit -- graphic descriptions of genitalia and sex acts are very much in the Smith lexicon.

But always you believe what you hear and get a chuckle out of the young people's groping toward each other by, shall we say, exposingthemselves? As junky as "Clerks" and "MalIrats" looked -- and those looks were deliberate or necessitated by poor cash flow -- "Chasing Amy" looks swell and polished. The soundtrack, featuring Sponge, Liz Phair, Soul Asylum and a number of "baby bands is from heaven, too. As to the cast, it's from good to great. Joey Lauren Adams is the most persuasive Alyssa one can imagine and she has a couple of humdinger outbursts that nearly stop your heart. Ben Affleck has the tough job of convincing gay and straight audiences that a lesbian would toss aside her sexual preference for him, but he pulls it off. As Banky, Jason Lee accurately captures the sardonic nature of his character and the hyper side, too, but he's less successful in the middle range. Dwight Ewell is delicious as a gay man who insists Archie and Jughead are lovers. ("You're in denial; Archie was a sister!")

Even Smith's Silent Bob is chatting away here. Smith inserts him into the movie, with sidekick Jason Mewes' Jay, for a bravura soliloquy on losing the love of your life -- the metaphorical Amy of the title. Will a tear come to your eye at this confession? Could be. The only non-speaker in the movie is me. Smith's technical wizards insert a copy of my Sunday Outtakes column in the movie's beginning credits, complete with my photo. Is that the reason I love this movie? Well, gosh, it didn't hurt.

CHASING AMY Starring Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee
Opens today at Red Bank Arts Theatre, White Street
Kevin Smith wrote and directed
Miramax Films
Rated R for profanity, sexual situations

Familiar scenes

Kevin Smith shot most of "Chasing Amy" in Monmouth County, at sites ranging from a Red Bank music store owner's former apartment to a Middletown Township diner. So watch for these familiar places, including one in Ocean County.

(1) Jack's Music Shoppe and nearby apartment, 30 Broad Street, Red Bank. Hooper and Holden banter about sexual preferences at the store, and Holden and Banky live in the apartment.

(2) Victory Park, River Road, Rumson. Alyssa and Holden fall in love on the park's swings. The Oceanic Fire House and Oceanic Bridge are in the background.

(3) The Galleria, Bridge Avenue, Red Bank. Holden bids Banky bye-bye at this train station set. An earlier shot of the actual train station is featured, too.

(4) The Marina Diner, Route 36 and Seeley Street, Belford, Middletown Township. Silent Bob speaks! Smith, playing the nontalkative one, opens up about losing the love of his life. Jay and Holden listen.

(5) Berkeley Carteret Hotel, Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park. Site of the comic book convention.

(6) Side Street. Mechanic Street, Red Bank, where Alyssa and Banky argue in the rain

(7) "Red Bank, New Jersey." Wide shot of Broad Street, Red Bank, where Banky and Holden live. You can see Prown's department store in the background.

(8) Take a Shot Billiards Club, House of Coffee, Background shots, Bridge Avenue, Red Bank.

(9) Asbury Park Boardwalk, Ocean avenue, Asbury Park. Holden and Alyssa play skeeball.

(10) Red Bank Catholic High School, Broad Street, Red Bank. Banky waxes on the charms of underage girls in school uniforms.

(11) Ocean Ice Palace, 197 Chambersbridge Rd. Brick Township. Ice hockey game.

(12) Quick Stop, 58 Leonard Ave., Leonardo, Middletown Township. A loudmouth spills the beas on Alyssa's sexual peccadilloes in front of the store Smith immortalized in his 1994 film, "Clerks".