chasing amy

1997

Written and Directed by: Kevin Smith

The "love that dare not speak its name" has changed quite a bit since Oscar Wilde's time. Homosexuality, while far from being accepted, is more visible than ever before on our screens.

The benchmark has shifted. Now the taboo seems to have moved from which gender we sleep with, to the fact that we apparently have to definitively choose which gender we sleep with. Fluid sexual preferences, or "bisexuality" for want of better terminology, is still the whipping ground of prejudice for gays, lesbians and straight people.

Never mind the expression "you can't please some people". Bisexuals don't seem to be able to please anyone. If there was ever a group that needed some positive press, it is the bisexual community. Then along comes a film like Chasing Amy.

To straight people this film really doesn't seem that big of a deal, but to some lesbians it was a betrayal of the gay community. I mean, how dare a filmmaker, and a MALE filmmaker at that, dare to conjecture that a woman who says she's lesbian could "be turned" into a straight woman?

There's a big, gaping hole in this argument though. Alyssa, the gay woman in question (Joey Lauren Adams) is not turned straight. Instead, she recognises that it isn't the gender she falls in love with, it is the person, and that is a concept that a lot of people both gay and straight still have not come to terms with.

The story centres on Holden (Ben Affleck), a regular missionary-postion-white-bread kinda guy who draws comic books for a living (and fart-joke comic books at that) with his best friend Banky (Jason Lee). When introduced to Alyssa at a comic con Holden is immediately attracted, but later finds out that Alyssa is gay. At first too weirded by the concept he makes a scene and walks out, but eventually comes around and the two become friends. Only the friendship is just a mask for deeper feelings, and finally Holden can't deal with it any longer. He confesses he is in love, and after much angst and crying Alyssa admits that she is too.

Banky is threatened by Alyssa and does everything he can to dig up dirt on Holden's new "rug munching" girlfriend, and comes up with a few choice tidbits that give Holden pause. Insecure about his own sexual inadequecies and thoroughly intimidated by Alyssa's past, he freaks out. Thus begins a chain of events that will lead him to a better understanding of himself and his own prejudices and insecurities.

Of course, on the flip side Alyssa faces her own problems. Ostracised by her gay friends for turning to the dark side (and lets not pretend this wouldn't happen because sometimes it just would), she's forced to re-evaluate her life, and in the process gives one of the most moving and well-written speeches on bisexuality I've ever seen. My bisexual girlfriend was moved to tears by it while we were watching.

For me this is a film of moments. Holden and Alyssa finally kissing in the rain, the already mentioned explanation of Alyssa's sexuality, Guinevere Turner's cameo as a gum chewing, potty-mouthed singer in the dyke band, the "permanent injuries" competition between Alyssa and Banky at Meow Mix, the Hooper X "black rage" fiasco, the compulsory Kevin Smith Star Wars references, and of course the appearance by Jay and Silent Bob. It's all good.

I'll admit to a bias towards Kevin Smith and what has become known as his "Jersey" trilogy. There's an awful lot of in-jokes in Chasing Amy that you simply won't get unless you've seen and enjoyed the previous films in the trilogy Clerks and Mallrats. However, that is more of a secondary level of understanding. This film plays perfectly well to audiences without that knowledge.

During the climactic confrontation between Holden and Alyssa she gets frustrated and screams, "Unlike you, I was not given a fucking road map at birth!" And really, how many of us were, sexually speaking? Even those of us who know who we are now, probably experienced a hell of a lot of confusion while getting to this point. It's not the best acted film in the world, this was an independent production after all and Ben Affleck wasn't the superstar he is now. However, due to a script that is funny, moving and daring, Chasing Amy is a rare insight into the realities of sexual confusion.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com

 

 
Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa
Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams
Kissing in the rain