Chasing Amy (1997)

D: Kevin Smith
S: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee

Entertaining though surprisingly sentimental comic drama from Kevin Smith charting the sexual minefield of late 1990s relationships with some of the verve and wit shown in his debut film Clerks, but also a notable amount of psychological interrogation of its characters. Comic book artist Ben Affleck meets and falls for fellow scrivener Joey Lauren Adams only to discover that she is gay. Though initially uncertain of how to proceed, he continues to pursue a friendship which deepens with inevitable complication. Meanwhile his professional and personal relationship with long-time collaborator and friend Jason Lee begins to deteriorate, just as their popular comic book is about to be adapted into a television series.

Essentially this is a tale of a confused young man who consistently makes the wrong moves and the wrong assumptions when trying to navigate his way though life as a heterosexual male at the end of the twentieth century. Though he eventually does develop a more mature attitude, it is his journey through increasingly stormy waters which is the subject of the film. Raising problematic issues of sexuality and its relation to personal identity, Smith bravely plunges where angels fear to tread, offering interesting challenges for viewers orienting themselves to both the characters and the questions. For a start given that our protagonist is generally likable but usually off the mark in the way he deals with other people, we are asked to empathise with a fool. Second Smith gamely confronts us with characters whose contradictions inevitably depend on our perceptions of them, such as the homosexual black artist whose hilarious black power persona is a marketing-determined mask or the enigma represented by Adams herself.

Smith manages the difficult trick of making what amounts to a series of lengthy dialogue exchanges into a well worked movie, making good use of hand held camera and drawing good performances from his cast. He is clearly at ease with the New Jersey world of the film, and switches location and tone with a consistent concern with how people behave in their natural environments. Smith's typically savage and sexually explicit sense of humour does play a part, but it is often muted in favour of tearful exchanges and twentysomething soul searching. He also makes his now expected cameo appearance as Silent Bob to voice some direct thematic material and add a few moments of surreality which don't go amiss. It is not an entirely comfortable mix, but on the whole the film manages to keep going and conclude satisfactorily.

This is not a film everyone will enjoy, but it should prove a success with admirers of Clerks, especially after the roasting given to Mallrats by all and sundry. It may well scandalise those prone to scandalisation and upset some more delicate viewers, but in general it is a fresh and interesting take on contemporary lifestyles which offers its audience many rewards. Watch out for Matt Damon, Affleck's co-writer and co-star from Good Will Hunting, in a small role.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.