Criterion Critique: Chasing Amy

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Chasing Amy: A Cautionary Tale on How Not to Make a Movie

Let’s talk about Batman for a second.  I know, I hear you asking already what does Batman have to do with a 1997 Kevin Smith turd?  The answer, of course, is Ben Affleck.  When news broke that Affleck was cast as the next Dark Knight, the internet went up in a furor, nearly as furiously as when Nolan announced that Heath Ledger would be the next Joker in The Dark Knight.  The internet was ablaze with uncreative and inaccurate comments resembling something like Daredevil this and Gigli that or Jersey Girl something or other.  Let’s set the record straight, folks, and point out that I don’t think Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to be that great, but it’s lousy presentation won’t be Affleck’s fault, because as the actor, he can only do so much.  Moreover, why were these prejudices cast on Affleck, yet any time Kevin Smith takes a dump it fetches four figures on eBay?  Not only was he responsible for Jersey Girl, but it was also his mind at the forefront of Chasing Amy.

Chasing Amy still

The rom-com formula leads our hero to a swing set with his sweetheart directly after the meet-cute.

All it takes is a quick look at Kevin Smith’s filmography to know why Chasing Amy is his only film collected by Criterion.  Out of his films, Chasing Amy is the only one not immediately as marketable or instantly beloved as his other classics (with the sole exception of Jersey Girl, but even the folks at Criterion know not to go near that one).  Sure, in a decade or two they may set their eyes on Tusk or Red State, but for now, Chasing Amy is their horse and they’re sticking with it.  And why is Chasing Amy so extremely reviled by yours truly?  The answer could be as simple as it’s just a lousy film but on top of that, its a ridiculously typical, bordering on downright offensive film.

Let’s examine the plot here for a second if you don’t believe me.  Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love with girl.  Boy realizes girl is into other girls.  Boy decides he’s man enough to convert girl.  The very notion is so absurd it pains me to even type it out.  Realistically speaking, any level-headed individual upon realizing the object of their affection was swinging for the other team would walk away.  Any respectful person wouldn’t put that heat on a person to change the very core nature of their being.  Kevin Smith must have realized this halfway through writing the script because in a hackneyed flail he changes pace and concludes that, perhaps, his focal lesbian was never truly a lesbian at all.  She was just sexually curious the entire time, even if that shatters the basis of he plot entirely.  I’m not letting you off that easy, Smith.

Chasing Amy still

Spot the Caricature (Hint: it’s all of them).

What’s worse, the film is composed almost entirely on nonsensical mix-em-ups.  Characters change perspective at the blink of an eye and seemingly between scenes they undergo serious, life-transforming epiphanies completely unprovoked.  Thirty minutes into the film, the guy who was legitimately accepting of gay relationships pulls an about-face and becomes absolutely intolerant to any sexual differences inherent in any individual whatsoever.  Similarly, the dude who is unnerved and uneasy at the very notion of lesbian romance is suddenly not only okay with the thought but has somehow taken it on himself to become the defacto LGBT champion and school the nonbelievers on the virtues of true love.

As if that’s not enough, the film runs into even more issues when handling its single black character.  Introduced as America’s favorite version of the radical Black Panther-esque amalgam, this character immediately transforms into the perfect visage of The Queen that Hollywood has been trying to prove to us is the only authentic gay man in existence.  Because, of course, a man can’t be both black and gay without somehow being a stereotypical caricature of both.

Chasing Amy still

The best scene of the film is still rigidly formulaic.

This film is built on a soapbox to preach to us tolerance, yet every rule is sets forth in its rhetoric has been broken and exploited by the film itself.  “The concept of a lipstick lesbian is a myth,” the film shouts at us in one particular scene.  “Except ours, of course, ours is real, because otherwise the movie wouldn’t work.”  Earlier, characters scold and chastise the audience for even considering the use of anti-LGBT slurs, despite the fact that the script is enthusiastically pockmarked with them.  Chasing Amy can’t tell where it stands in the sociological and cultural spectrum.  Does it want to be a testament of tolerance, or does it want to be a filthy romp through toilet humor and cunnilingus jokes?  Does it want to paint its characters as realistic, living human beings, or does it want to rely on tired and prejudiced Hollywood tropes?  Once you figure it out, please clue me in.

The absolute worst part of this film, though, is that it could have been good.  It could have been a classic not unlike Mallrats or Clerks.  In fact, the first twenty or thirty minutes aren’t only promising, they’re actually entertaining and sensible.  Then, something happens.  The script breaks, characters are being tossed from revelatory plot point to exhaustingly revelatory plot point, and the whole thing starts to more closely resemble the result of a bunch of college kids shouting out suggestions to see who can top one another than an actual film by a guy with established filmmaking credentials.  The true tragedy of Chasing Amy isn’t that which befalls the perpetually doomed romance of its central lovers, nor is it the film’s well-spirited yet entirely misinformed broad-stroke caricatures or its off-base message.  The tragedy is that this could have been a masterpiece, but instead it turned out to be just another half-assed rom-com.

 

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Author: Tom Bevis

Tom Bevis is a ne'er-do-well residing in Southern California where he frequently neglects the variable San Diego climate to spend hours pondering over his PS4 collection struggling to decide what to play. He has recently taken over as lead writer of the indie comic Feral Boy and Gilgamesh, the back catalog of which you can read at feralboyandgilgamesh.com. He also hates writing about himself in the third person.

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