Chasing Amy (1997)

Rated R.

Now showing at:
Terrace Theater: 3:00, 5:00, 7:15, 9:30.

By Betsy Pickle

With "Chasing Amy," Kevin Smith edges into adulthood.

Oh, Smith still inhabits the New Jersey neighborhoods where he set "Clerks" and "Mallrats," and his language is as frank as ever. He still has Jay and Silent Bob (played by Jason Mewes and himself). But the perceptive writer-director segues from teen-style angst to a newfound maturity with this offbeat love story.

He does this while taking on an explosive challenge, one that could offend opposite camps of American society. Smith dares to tell the story of a guy who falls in love with a lesbian.

There goes the right (not that Smith had any hope of wooing them after a young woman had sex with a dead man in "Clerks"). And what of the left, or at least the left-leaning gay population? Well, some lesbians may not thrill to the sight of a sister being tempted to cross the line, but in terms of positive portrayals, the film is strong overall.

Holden (Ben Affleck) and his lifelong best friend, Banky (Jason Lee), are the talents behind a popular comic-book series. At a convention, Holden meets Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), also a comic-book creator, through their mutual friend, Hooper (Dwight Ewell).

Holden thinks he has connected with Alyssa. When he sees her again and finds out she's gay, he's stunned. Still, she wants to be friends, and he wants to enjoy her company, so they start hanging out, despite Banky's predictions of doom.

Not surprisingly, Holden can't compartmentalize his feelings for Alyssa, and eventually he has to risk their bond by expressing his love. Much trauma ensues.

Like his benchmark, "Clerks," Smith's new film is often outrageously funny. Affleck, Adams, Lee and Ewell rattle off Smith's poetic and explicit dialogue with deadly accuracy, and they also are in synch with the script's honesty.

Smith enriches his film by including layers of physical and emotional components. The comic-book industry and the New York club scene. Being gay, being gay and black, being unsure. Friendship, loyalty, trust and openness; sabotage, deceit, jealousy and secrecy.

As always, Smith's female characters are smarter and more together than their male counterparts, but his men are learning. They're talking. They're thinking.

Affleck and Adams are both adorable. It would be easy to picture them in a conventional romantic comedy; it's to their credit that they connect with the drama in this. Lee and Ewell provide humor, pain, rage -- some real, some fake.

"Chasing Amy" feels so real and seamless that Smith's punch-to-the-gut message has extra resonance. This is the love story of the year.

Copyright © 1997, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. All Rights Reserved.