CHASING AMY (R)
by Michael McCarthy
With his first film, Clerks, writer/director Kevin Smith introduced us to some rather amusing New Jersey folks and everyone laughed. With his second, Mallrats, he did the same. The difference, as you very well know, is that not nearly as many laughed. The big question then is, can he make us laugh again like he did with Clerks? The answer? Yes, yes, yes. But . . . he just might make you cry, too.
While Chasing Amy has been dubbed the third installment of Smith's "New Jersey triology," and sports bundles of references to his previous films for those who desire to take notice, the subject matter is ultimately much deeper. Sure, there's lots of sex talk, which is arguably Smith's best comedy, but if you're only looking for laughs then you've got another thing coming. We're talking about love.
Things start off light and fluffy (and very amusing) as we meet Mallrats vets Ben Affleck and Jason Lee in their new roles as Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards respectively. The two are best friends and work together on the comic book they've created, entitled =91Bluntman and Chronic.' It isn't long before they're introduced to fellow comic creator Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) and their world is turned upside down. You see, Holden falls fast and hard for Alyssa, but she's a lesbian. Still, the two become friends. Good friends. Holden is the first guy she's ever met who can't be categorized as a stereotype and in that regard she's, well, attracted to him. Their friendship puts a great deal of strain on the relationship of Holden and Banky, both as friends and professionally.
Can Holden win Alyssa's heart despite her sexual orientation? Can Banky continue his friendship with Holden knowing he's no longer the best friend? These might sound like simple questions, but, as in life, the answers are much more complex.
As a writer, Smith has grown immensely. He provides us with offbeat characters and an offbeat story, but injects the film with enough realism that the viewer is forced to care about the characters and their outcome. His skills as a director have increased leaps and bounds as well. At times you'd swear Mike Leigh directed this. Smith knows precisely when to use close ups, for example, allowing the tears to flow through the lense and, in that regard, off the screen.
Performance-wise, you can't help but be completely and utterly impressed with this cast. Jason Lee spends the first 10 minutes of the film yelling as he did throughout Mallrats, making it hard to see him as Banky and not his Rats character Brodie. Beyond that, there's no trace of the "rats" in the bunch. Ben Affleck completely abandons his =91Rats prick, coming off highly sympathetic in a role where many others could have easily come off as, well, a prick. Joey Lauren Adams, the true star of Chasing Amy, delivers a very moving performance I'd have never expected based on her work thus far. Her Alyssa is funny and sweet, yet worldly and wise. She'll make you laugh and, yes, she might even make you cry. Finally, also deserving of praise is Dwight Ewell (who was not in =91Rats) as Hooper, the black comic book creator of 'White Hating Coon.' Hooper, you see, is secretly friends with Holden and Banky (who are, you guessed it, white). To top it off, Hooper is also secretly homosexual. Ewell nails both personas of his character perfectly.
Amy may chase away those fans of Smith who loved Mallrats, and certainly anyone homophobic, but its a wonderful film that comes from the heart and proves without a doubt that Smith has what it takes to be a successful filmmaker. Just not of the mainstream variety.