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Sainted Lesbian

Chasing Amy
Lorenzo Bevilaqua

Out of the Past: The comedy team of Silent Bob (Kevin Smith, right) and Jay (Jason Mewes), seen in "Clerks" and "Mallrats," turns up again in Smith's newest film.

Kevin Smith's female friend is much too good to be true in 'Chasing Amy'

By Richard von Busack

ANOTHER argument for the abolition of the Sundance Film Festival is Chasing Amy, which seems due for a one-way trip straight from the Rockies to the Kevin Smith Wing in the Museum of the Overrated Independent Writer/Directors. This frustrating film is the last installment in what Smith calls his New Jersey trilogy (along with Clerks and Mallrats), and it's his most serious-minded work to date.

Chasing Amy focuses on straight men's relations with lesbians, but it avoids exploiting women who love women, even at the price of eliminating sexual tension altogether. Smith is desperate to confront his audience's homophobia in language it will understand. The movie is about fighting an enemy in your head, about growing up in the dick-wielder's paradise of suburban New Jersey and trying to get over it. Chasing Amy even has guys kissing in it--eccchhhhh!

It is, in short, a film made for all of the most important reasons by someone who is willing to risk alienating his core audience. It's sometimes touching, sometimes funny--and sometimes so embarrassing that you have to avert your gaze.

Holden (as in Caulfield) and Banky are the creators of Bluntman and Chronic, the pot-smoking vigilante-parody characters in a popular comic book. (The art is by Madman artist Mike Allred.) Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) lead placid lives--drinking, bullshitting and cohabiting in their studio in Red Bank, N.J. Some producers are even blowing smoke at them about a possible TV cartoon series.

At a comics convention, the boys encounter fellow cartoonist Alyssa Jones (Joey Laurel Adams). The three hit it off at first; the two Jersey boys have never met a girl who talks as freely as they do. Unfortunately for Holden, Alyssa likes women, but the two still become close friends, much to the anger of Banky, who misses his pal.

Banky's native prejudice against dykes worsens when Holden declares his love to Alyssa. Surprise--she yields, deciding that what had once been her lesbian identity was really just a label, a search for love meant to ignore the bounds of gender. (This is one of the moments I was talking about when you can't bear to look at the screen.)


Official movie home page.

A page full of links about Kevin Smith's previous movie, Mallrats.

Big site about Smith's first movie, Clerks.


For the third-act diversion, Banky digs up some dirt on Alyssa's past, and Holden waffles on the relationship; at last, Holden devises a truly stupid scheme to get over his jealousy and the conflict with his best friend.

Smith's most glaring weakness as a filmmaker is his inability to create female characters. Alyssa isn't a real person; she's a sounding board for Holden, an affectionate challenger to the boy's grossest stereotypes, a sort of St. Lesbian. (A gay male character, played by Dwight Ewell, is similarly too understanding to live.)

Alyssa begins as a clear-eyed, promiscuous girl who, as she says, "slept with half the women in Manhattan"; she ends as a mild and adoring lover. I can't be the only viewer who longs to see an honest portrayal of the romantic problems of a man in love with a lesbian (and the other way around, of course), so I know I won't be the only one depressed by how easily the problems are resolved in Chasing Amy.

Alyssa is supernaturally understanding of the adoring Holden, even after he's already blown it. (The baby-voiced waif Adams isn't experienced enough as an actress to fight against the current of the film or to give it more than what's on the page.) And Smith--this is the residual Jersey in him--doesn't direct Holden's anger at the fools who blabbed the story of Alyssa's sex life all over her high school.

In Smith's scheme, Holden is the injured party, and he's the one who ought to be soothed. Maybe what makes this movie so deeply frustrating is the way that its progressive qualities go so far but not far enough.

Chasing Amy
Looking for Love: Joey Laurel Adams and Ben Affleck overcome the odds in "Chasing Amy."

Photo by Daniela Federici

THE FILM features the final bow for the comedy team of Silent Bob (played by Smith himself) and Jay (Jason Mewes), who show up as the models for Bluntman and Chronic. In Mallrats, a comic-book movie, the pair outwitted a straw-hat-wearing security guard (played by Michael Rooker); the character appears in the drawings here as well.

Silent Bob always comes across as the smartest person in Smith's movies, on the grounds that it's better to hold your tongue and be thought wise, etc. In Chasing Amy, even Bob speaks up, telling a story about how he's never forgotten a girl named Amy whom he let slip away because of his jealousy.

The Bob and Jay show represents the warring halves of Smith's personality. Jay, the trash-talking joker, is the part of Smith that loves comic books, porn and stupid gags. Silent Bob is the more thoughtful--and more sexually ambiguous--half. (There has to be a reason why Jay keeps calling him "this tubby bitch.")

In the film's epilogue, we hear that Holden has killed off the comic character that Jay inspired. It is Smith's way of telling us that from now on he's going to be more open to the parts of life forbidden by Catholic school and the Jersey suburbs. So Smith deserves encouragement; if the director learns more, he'll be able to get away with certain weaknesses, among them his point-and-shoot visual style.

Like Bob, he's got to keep his ears open and his mouth shut. Still, Smith doesn't edit his characters' flow of talk worth a damn, and he stands at risk of jumping from facile joking into a swamp of hearts and flowers. Did anyone really want to see another love scene photographed on a park swing set?

Smith's getting wiser, but if he doesn't get wiser still, his original work is going to end up as untouched by real life as the average Hollywood movie. Kevin Smith is one of the smartest people making Gen X movies, but that hasn't kept him out of trouble.

Chasing Amy (R; 111 min.), directed and written by Kevin Smith, photographed by David Klein and starring Ben Affleck, Joey Laurel Adams and Jason Lee.

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From the April 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro

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