But Amy played strong in the theaters for several months, and I kept hearing good reviews (it's popping up on many critics' "Top 10" lists now), so I took a chance and bought my ticket. Chasing Amy, I discovered, is mesmerizing. I left the theater oblivious to what was going on around me; my emotions had been given such a workout that I was busy trying to place all my feelings back on their proper shelves.
I should warn you ahead of time that Smith's reputation as a potty-mouth wasn't gained by accident; the film has excessive profanity and some graphic sexual discussions. If you approach Chasing Amy as entertainment, it might be disturbing -- I am recommending the film, but with reservations. Approach it the same way you would Braveheart, which contains scenes of violence that disturbs the viewer but serve the overall purpose of the film.
The story revolves around Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and his best friend, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), two comic book artists who are chasing success with their popular "Bluntman and Chronic" series. Their misadventures at comic book conventions are hilarious to any pop-culture enthusiast. Especially funny is the gay African-American artist, Hooper (Dwight Ewell), who has to act like a Black Panther in order to sell copies of his comic. (Banky baits him by insisting that Lando Calrissian was a positive black character in science fiction.)
Holden meets a friend of Hooper's, Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), another artist struggling with a far-less-successful comic, and falls for her. He does the typical male pick-up routine on her, only to discover (with embarrassment) that she's a lesbian. She still wants to be friends with him, though, and he can't turn her down -- he'd either have to admit that his interest in her was just a hunger for sex, or that he's intolerant of gays.
An interesting thing happens, though, once sex is taken out of the picture for Holden. He begins to care about Alyssa, and he might even -- gulp -- love her. The scene where he finally admits his love for Alyssa sounds like it was ripped from the diary of every high-school geek who ever loved his best friend the prom queen. Kevin Smith certainly has an ear for dialogue, and this scene is written so forcefully that it will just tear your heart out.
Alyssa is caught off guard, because she hasn't been looking for love from a guy for a long time. (She wasn't always a lesbian, it turns out.) Now that she's found the devotion and affection that had been missing in all of her sexual relationships, she painfully lets her lesbian friends know that she's seeing a man, turning her entire world inside out for a chance at true love.
"Sex is easy. Love is hard," read the posters for Chasing Amy. Holden has a difficult time learning that lesson. (Neither he nor Banky is particularly mature in any part of his life -- they write juvenile entertainment because that's how they think.) Holden begins to take his eyes off the relationship and becomes more concerned with what other people think of it. He begins to feel inadequate because he's relatively sexually inexperienced (his pick-up act really was an act), and Alyssa has been bed-hopping for a decade. His problems with her past threaten to put a wall between them.
It should be noted that Kevin Smith wrote this movie to get over the exact same roadblock he was facing with his girlfriend, Joey Lauren Adams -- she was much more sexually experienced that he was, and he felt inferior in the relationship. That's why this film is so much better than his first two: It doesn't just try to entertain, it tries to wrestle with issues and emotions. It's told from the heart. More than anything else, Chasing Amy is a love letter.
Now, the knee-jerk Christian response to Holden and Alyssa's problems is: "Don't have sex! Wait for marriage!" And then we stop thinking about the issue. But I believe Smith's dilemma has a universal application in brand-new relationships. There are all kinds of inequalities between people that have to be recognized and worked out, particularly sexual ones, and often we have no idea how to begin. It's a tragedy when a relationship with real potential falls apart because of petty differences that lead to a breaking of trust.
These problems often trip up new relationships, not necessarily because they're big issues, but because people don't know how to deal with them. The first sign of trouble will lead some people to abandon ship. Chasing Amy is the first film I've seen that pinpoints these stumbling blocks (albeit in a very sex-saturated environment). It asks viewers to pay close attention to their relationships, urging them to mature in their self-awareness, and to downplay their need to live up to relationship idealism and equality at the expense of simply loving their significant other, full stop.