I go back and forth as to what Kevin Smith’s best film is. I suppose it depends on the mood I’m in, because on the one hand, you have the theological ruminations mixed with poop jokes of “Dogma.” On the other hand, there’s “Chasing Amy,” Kevin Smith’s personal tale about relationships, and inspired by his relationship, at the time, by actress Joey Lauren Adams. Although it still has the same dependency on dick-and-fart jokes and profanity as his other films like “Clerks” and “Mallrats,” but there’s a maturity to the story and storytelling that just wasn’t there in those earlier films. It was far and away Smith’s best film to date, and it remains as such to this day, although “Dogma” and “Clerks II” have come pretty dang close.
The film centers on the world of comic book artists, starting with a convention where we meet the main players. First, there’s Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). They are the creators of Bluntman & Chronic, who are Batman and Robin clones with a focus on sex and drugs, in particular, pot. They write the stories together, but Holden is the drawer and colorist while Banky is the tracer, although he tries not to look at himself like that, and it ticks him off when it is pointed out to them. During a panel about diversity in comics where their friend Hooper (Dwight Ewell) has some fascinating ideas on the “Star Wars” trilogy and race, they meet Alyssa Jones (Adams), the creator of a personal comic who is vibrant, full of life…and gay. Holden is completely infatuated by her, even after he finds out she’s gay. They spend a lot of time together, and have a great time, and then, they fall in love. Apart from the obvious pitfalls they face with their relationship, it also puts a strain on Holden and Banky’s relationship just at a moment when their professional career is about to go with another level.
The central dilemma in “Chasing Amy” isn’t the fact that Alyssa is gay and Holden is straight, though. The tension in the film doesn’t come out until they have started dating. That’s when Banky, who has not been comfortable with their relationship, starts to look into Alyssa’s past, and what he finds out, he tells Holden. It rattles Holden, because up until that time, he thought he was “special” in her life. And when he confronts her about it, his illusions are shot, but so are Alyssa’s, because the truth about Holden comes out. That truth is simple- Holden needed to feel like he was unique in her life. When the illusion of being her “only guy” is gone, so is his romantic vision of them together. Alyssa, however, is crushed, because he is using her past as a means of judging her current self. Adams is shattering in that moment, and the fact that she didn’t get more awards push that year is understandable, given Smith’s smutty reputation, but also a shame. The performances by her and Affleck are probably the best in any Smith film, with Lee’s Banky a very close third. I wasn’t really a fan of either “Clerks” or “Mallrats” when I first saw them, but I was all-in on “Chasing Amy” the second I watched it, probably because it was obvious at the time that Smith finally had something personal to say. The way that personal quality manifests itself has only grown over the years.
After he finished his View Askewniverse with “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001, he started to get a little more serious with “Jersey Girl” (ugh) and “Clerks II” before switching genres for the likes of “Red State” and “Tusk,” but I don’t think he’s blended serious and funny quite as well as he did here. And there’s a lot to laugh at in this film. Hooper’s “Star Wars” rant always kills me, as does Alyssa and Banky’s “Jaws”-like comparison of scars after we find out the truth about her. One thing that somewhat undercuts the film now is the homophobia Banky has on display, but seeing it called out for what it is helps alleviate that. The scene at the hockey arena is the emotional center of the film, and seeing it escalate the way it does only makes it harder to watch. The best moment in the film, however, comes back to Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), when they meet Holden to pick up their likeness money for Bluntman and Chronic. Holden has become distant from Alyssa, and this is when Smith’s Bob swings into action with his story about a girl named Amy he was in love with. The details are similar with what Holden and Alyssa are going through; unfortunately, Holden takes exactly the wrong message from the story, and in its climax, distances himself further from Alyssa, not understanding that what she did then is not what she wants now. She wants Holden, but for some reason, she isn’t enough for him. They split up, and we see them all, a year later, at a comic book convention. They are separated from each other’s lives now- Holden and Banky split up as a team, and have their own projects, and Alyssa went back to her life. Holden has important moments of quiet peace with both of them, and shares with Alyssa his own book…Chasing Amy. We feel like he finally understood Bob’s story, and better days are ahead for all three…even if that means they go about their lives separately. Smith hasn’t made a better film, or more truthful story, since.