[Contains throaty torch-singin’ SPOILERS!!!]
Back in the day, I was a huge Kevin Smith fanboy… and while that obsession has dimmed over the years, I’m still extremely fond of his early “View Askew-niverse” flicks, for all their faults. To date Chasing Amy (1997) is the only film I’ve ever seen multiple times at the cinema, and I must have watched my VHS copy to death… but I was reticent to revisit it on DVD, because it’s so evocative of a very specific and emotive time in my life, and therefore not something I could just casually dip into for chuckles. Now, having finally grasped the nostalgia nettle, I find myself reflecting back on what the film meant to me then, and what it means to me now.
Back then I was still a student, barely out of my teens, and only just beginning to wrap my head around the concept of human sexuality in general. Since then I’ve come to believe that you can’t really fit people into rigid little boxes, when it comes to who they fancy, and who they fall in love with. I understand why, for the sake of political solidarity, it makes sense to insist that people are born either Gay or Straight, and can’t ever waiver… but I prefer to think of human beings as constantly evolving and questioning… and I think it’s dangerous to get stuck in these ruts, when life is so short, and there’s so little chance of finding True Love in the first place. I hadn’t actually heard of the “Kinsey Scale” until Juno Temple’s character used it as an ice-breaker in Kaboom, but I think it’s a far more useful point of reference, suggesting that sexuality is a continuum rather than two strictly defined forks, that never the twain shall hook-up. And while many may scoff at Amy’s story of a straight man apparently “turning” a lesbian, I’m prepared to take the character at her word when she explains that she’s looking for a Soulmate, and she doesn’t want to exclude fifty per cent of the population, either because society tells her it’s icky and wrong to date other women, or for fear that her sisters would think she was “selling out” and betraying “the cause”. All she wants is freedom of choice… even if her choice happens to be hetero. And I think Amy explores this choice in a very intelligent and engaging way, in-between all the “dick and fart jokes”!
It’s also a pretty compelling study of how the male ego can scupper a seemingly perfect relationship… poking at the primitive part of a man’s brain that demands a woman be totally and retroactively faithful to the image of purity and innocence that he’s projected on to her. ‘Holden’ (Ben Affleck) can happily accept that the new love of his life ‘Alyssa’ (Joey Lauren Adams) has slept with other women… but when he discovers that in her youth she also had threesomes with obnoxious male jocks, and even (according to urban myth) experimented with bestiality, he completely and irrevocably loses his shit. It should be enough for him to know that she’s finished with all that kinky stuff now, and is completely and utterly in Love with him. It should be, but it isn’t. He can barely even stand the sight of her, until a wiser friend talks him around… and even then, he goes and screws it all up by concluding that the solution to his problem is to propose an ill-conceived three-way with his homophobic flatmate, ‘Banky’ (Jason Lee), so they can all share in some freaky sexual shenanigans together, and he won’t feel so sheltered and square. Gah! Stupid, stupid man!
Incidentally, I was a little jarred by how much of an a-hole Banky is, after coming back to the film after such a long break. In those pre-My Name is Earl days, I used to think Lee was the coolest mothertrucker alive, and there’s no denying he gives a fantastically charismatic performance here… but his character throws hate-words like “f*ggot” around with such a cavalier disregard, I did find myself flinching along with the other characters (first Hooper, then Alyssa, then Holden) who call him on his abysmal attitude. I wouldn’t like to speculate on why he is the way he is, but I’m glad that both he and Holden seem to have found some inner-peace and maturity in the “one year later” epilogue.
As for the cast, well… the performance JLA gives here is straight-up Oscar-worthy, and everyone on the commentary agrees that she is an incredibly smart, sparky and generous actress… but this remains her most high-profile leading role to date (in a part that was written specifically for her by Smith after they worked together on Mallrats), and I can’t help thinking that her career may have been impeded by her voice. Personally, I love the way JLA sounds… I have a real soft-spot for “baby-voiced” actresses like Jennifer Tilly and Christine Cavanaugh, and could happily listen to them talk all day and night… but I do remember one Amy screening I was at where some frustrated a-hole behind me yelled for her character to “Shut! Up!”, during a scene where she’s wailing away at Holden. JLA admitted in an interview at the time that hers is “not a normal voice. It doesn’t fit into people’s preconceptions about what a woman’s voice should sound like… I’m sure it’s helped me get some roles, [b]ut Chasing Amy, I almost didn’t get. There was concern the voice would grate on some people… which some critics said it did.” And obviously those critics are entitled to their (stupid, wrong) opinions… so long as they don’t shout them out while I’m trying to watch the film, dammit! Vocal pitch aside, Alyssa remains one of my all-time “geek-girl” crushes… a smart, funny, sexy girl, who writes her own songs and draws her own comic books! That’s the jackpot, baby!
Alyssa aside, Amy is a bit of a sausage-fest, but I have to give a shout-out to Guinevere Turner, who plays the ex-band-mate who calls our heroine up on to the stage, for her big musical number. After all these years, I’ve only just discovered that Turner was also the screenwriter responsible for such films as American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page and BloodRayne (although, as noted in my post on that movie, she can’t be held accountable for the quality of the final product there). Not only did Smith name a character in Mallrats after her, he also stated that the whole plot of Amy was inspired by a brief scene from an earlier movie of hers, Go Fish. Turner was also the first person outside the View Askew offices to read an early draft of this script, so she could offer her notes as a real-life woman/lesbian/screenwriter.
One of the many benefits of watching this film on DVD rather than VHS is that I also got to enjoy a deleted scene featuring Illeana Douglas as Alyssa’s resentful ‘Roommate’. It’s easy to see why it was cut, because the way her character rags on Holden is pretty damn on-the-nose… but she does look mighty fine while she’s doing it, so I’m glad it was preserved for posterity all the same.
Note: I also have to salute Smith himself for the way he talks about JLA on the commentary track. The two of them were dating during the making of the film, but had broken up by the time it came to release the “home video” version, so there are several self-depreciating jokes about his broken heart, but he only has the most complimentary things to say about her performance, and her commitment to the project. Bless.