'Chasing Amy' makes a good catch
Sherry Crawford
Courier correspondent

There is something so satisfying, so rich about experiencing a wonderfully well-written and performed film that there should be a celebration when it happens, especially when it was unexpected. "Chasing Amy" needs to have confetti handed out with the tickets so that the audience can recognize the joy of its script and its cast after having seen it.

Writer/director Kevin Smith offers up "Chasing Amy" as the third installment in his "New Jersey Trilogy." The much-heralded "Clerks" came first in 1995 on a budget of $24,000; the second, "Mallrats," released in 1995, met with little critical success.

But now he is back, and with only $250,000, Smith has crafted a solid film about the perspective of sex and love among those under 30. Actually, this may be the best script to have been filmed in the last 10 years, Merchant-Ivory films included.

The story is set in Smith's native New jersey and begins with the audience's meeting Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee), best friends and the authors of the successful comic "Bluntman and Chronic." Both are bright, articulate and terribly funny, the recipients of acerbic yet extremely insightful dialogue from Smith. They are a pair so happily ensconced in their view of sex and it's normal progressions that they are given to conversations about the sex lives of Archie and Jughead. To them, sex is a natural part of a relationship.

But that slowly begins to change when Holden meets Allysa (Joey Lauren Adams), another comic book author, who grabs his attention immediately. Within a short time they are best friends, complete in each other's companionship. So naturally Holden wants to take his love for her to the next level -- the physical -- but Allysa is a lesbian. This begins the complicated and brilliantly self-revealing growth of the two characters as they move close to a long-term commitment and an understanding of themselves.

Couched in humor, Holden and Banky deal openly with issues confusing to men, such as women not being honest with men about their sexual desires. In one telling sentence, Banky sums up his feelings: "Women should tell me what they want and where to go like CNN or the Weather Channel -- providing constant updates."

Throughout all this Allysa is painfully and slowly learning about herself and her own needs as a human begin as well as a woman.

And in the background is Banky, who seems jealous but may actually be dealing with other feelings for Holden.

The joy of this film, along its excellent dialogue, is that characters are allowed to grow and to discover, to build and to learn as they go along. They are rich with issues and astute with their assessments, many of which come after having paid a high price of self-asteem and loss.

There is a great deal of humor, especially from one character, another comic writer who lectures dressed in African-American urban guerrilla garb and skewers his listeners with the pain of his existence in a racist society. But shortly afterward, he is revealed to be a self-assured gay man who acts as a mentor to help Holden discover his love for Allysa.

This is not a film that will be comfortable for many. It is filled with string, graphic language, as well as some scenes of gay kissing. But that is just the first layer of a film that demands that stereotypes be put away and that hearts and souls be discovered.