90's-vember: Chasing Amy (1997) - Can't Stop the Movies
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90’s-vember: Chasing Amy (1997)

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We can't discuss the '90s without taking a quick detour into the Askewniverse.

Kevin Smith (love, tolerate or hate the man), along with the Weinstein's and Miramax, built a cult of personality around being the guy we were all afraid would never leave the basement.  He writes characters obsessed with Star Wars, emotionally and sexually insecure to an unhealthy degree, trapped in dead-end jobs with great potential but little intellectual curiosity.  This is the dark underbelly of the well-off protagonists of Danny's pick, Kicking and Screaming, a great film but not nearly as influential as Smith's best film to date, 1997's Chasing Amy.

So why Chasing Amy and not Clerks?  Amy, for all it's directorial flaws, hit the sweet spot of dark, sexually tinged comedy centered around mentally stunted "adults".  Clerks' characters can be accused of just never finding their niche and tolerating what they have, Amy set the tone for ensemble comedies trying to get some emotional growth mixed in with their raunchy humor.  If There's Something About Mary hit the tone for content, Amy let's the audience know just what's going on through these people's minds, and it's a horrible place to be.

One thing Smith's films lacked going into the new millennium was a certain revelry in how dingy they are.  Clerks and Mallrats both embraced this as a source of humor but Amy goes straight for the harsh truth.  Men who sit around discussing Star Wars and are scared of their girlfriends' past sexual experiences are not developing properly and are one bad situation away from hurting the minds and hearts of anyone around them.  Smith found his muse for this venue of expression in his current girlfriend (and soon-to-be ex) Joey Lauren Adams and an unlikely schleb Ben Affleck.

"What's a Nubian?" is just one of many lines that's joined my friends' lexicon of casual conversation.

Affleck as Holden (an unsubtle but nice call out to Catcher In The Rye) is at his grungiest, looking heavyset and tired while blunt-forcing his way into a relationship with Adams' Alyssa.  It's established fairly early on neither of our two leads are going to be very pleasant characters to get to know, even though Alyssa certainly has a rugged charm about her.  Holden is one of the true assholes of cinema, whose most touching moment of dialogue comes with his admission that he "...would risk this friendship to take it [their relationship] to the next plateau."

Say what you will about Smith's juvenilia when it comes to his writing, but that line is packed with feelings of selfishness (relationships stem from the friendship and are not risked by it), self-delusion (the risk also assumes he's vaunted the two of them on a mythic level to fall from) and insecurity (the plateau implies he sees a future for the two of them but isn't entirely willing to admit it will flat-line).  His script is filled with these moments, touching on a kind of insecurity with relationships blossoming into the one time (hopefully anyway) you were wrong about everything.

Much has been made of Smith's approach to homosexual relationships as presented in the film and immortalized in Banky's (Jason Lee) line "All a woman really wants, be it mother, senator, nun, is some serious deep-dicking."  This seems counterproductive in a film designed to show homosexuals honestly, but is really indicative of how many layers of deception are going on amongst the characters in the movie.  Banky about his own urges feelings through his hypersexual commentary and Alyssa is not entirely honest with anyone around her about being completely gay (also, it must be noted, is friends with women who are and don't fit the oft-discussed stereotype in the film).  Then there's the great writing done with Hooper X (Dwight Ewell, who gives the best and saddest performance in the film) who lives as a minority in a minority in a minority, a gay black man who writes comic books.

If nothing else, Chasing Amy has several potent examples of just how badly insecurity can completely trash an otherwise good relationship.

Smith pulled off a tricky balancing act with Amy which would take years to reproduce.  Not many directors have the gumption to have their characters express their disgust as openly as Alyssa and Holden do at the end, but balancing with the excellent "sex injuries" montage is delivering far more than expected.

How does this film exemplify the 90's?

  • The presence and style of grunge is everywhere.  Even if it's not present on the soundtrack, it's felt in all of the flannel of the costumes and grittiness of the production.
  • What is it about The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the '90s?  They had a cameo in one of our other picks (Clueless) and keep popping up in all of our other films.
  • Banky and Holden sit around playing a Sega Genesis.  I forgot just how stylish that console and those controllers looked.

What makes this my pick?

Aside from Smith's previously detailed influence on verbose raunch, I have to echo Danny's sentiments with Kicking and Screaming (an altogether better movie if not even 1/20th as influential as Amy) but a bit more honestly in application.  Both movies involved us sitting around and debating things but not with the kind of upper-middle to lower-upper class affluence a true liberal arts college attracts.

No - we went to state universities, putzed around in clunkers, had sex, broke-up with our significant others in far less witty exchanges, played videogames, argued about nerdy things like Star Wars and comics, and generally had fun while we screwed up repeatedly.  In short, we looked like this:

We may not have had catchphrases, but damn if this isn't a more accurate way of seeing how we looked at 4 in the morning.

Yes, at some point, Jacob and I both had hair that equals the magnificence you see here (minus the smooth shine, this is still a movie).  Chasing Amy forces you to remember a time you may not always want to because it was a time you were absolutely wrong about almost everything, especially where relationships are concerned.

We learned by failing, sometimes in spectacular flame-outs, and at least we all somehow learned to fail upward.

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Posted by Andrew

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