Thursday, 23 March 2017

TBT - Chasing Amy (1997)

I've never really been a massive fan of Kevin Smith films. When I was at university I lived with a guy who loved him and wouldn't hear a bad word said about the director. I mean Clerks is a silly but enjoyable enough watch and I did enjoy Dogma. However, I think Smith was severely overrated. Thankfully Smith-mania really peaked in the 90s and early 2000s but it still bugs me that Clerks is so often brought into discussions about "best films ever made".  I mean I get that guy can make films out of small budgets but that's no reason to give him so much credit. He got lucky with one suprise hit film and has been essentially riding it's coattails ever since. I mean all his films are on pretty much the same level. Plus, he's very hit and miss. Now, I realise that Ben Affleck has, for most of his career, made some questionable film choices but it always makes me a bit sad that Kevin Smith features so often in talks about Afflecks greatest film roles. I think Chasing Amy is almost always listed and Dogma makes the occasional appearance. Am I just missing something? Or were people just a lot easier to please in the 90s?

Chasing Amy is considered to be Kevin Smith's greatest films after his debut film, Clerks. It was Ben Affleck's second time in the director's cast after the disappointing Mallrats. Affleck plays Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who works with his friend and roommate, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). The two co-create the popular series Bluntman and Chronic based on their associates Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). At a comic book convention the pair are introduced to Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and, after spending the evening at a bar together, Holden decides he and Alyssa have a deep connection. The only trouble is, Alyssa is a lesbian. Obviously, as this is Hollywood, that doesn't matter for long and Alyssa enters into a romantic relationship with Holden. Until Banky uncovers some secrets from her past that she lied to Holden about. When faced with the truth about his girlfriend's sexual history, the artist lashes out and risks losing the woman he loves.

The worst thing about Chasing Amy is that I can see what Kevin Smith was going for here. He was trying to make a film about sexual identity and how other people view it. I think he was genuinely trying to convey a meanginful and important message about a person's past can lead them to be who they are now. Alyssa has a reputation for being a promiscuous teenager and, whilst her boyfriend cannot handle it, she is unashamed of it. She understands that it is not who she is now but realises that it was something she needed to do to get to where she is now. It should be empowering but it just kind of feels a bit off. As an audience we aren't supposed to agree with Holden's attitude but the positive message is so wrapped up in awful stereotypes and homophobic jokes that you can't take it seriously.

The relationship between Holden and Alyssa comes out of the fact that he has very little idea or respect for the concept of lesbian sex. He doesn't think that anything other than heterosexual sex really counts so, in this respect, he see her as a pure, untouched being. Until he finds out that she has been touched by more than her fair share of dudes. It is then that he starts to see her for as flawed and worries about her increased experience. Which is fine if you have a meaningful resolution where Holden realises he's an ass, apologies to Alyssa and they move beyond it. That doesn't happen. Holden realises he's an ass and then becomes an even bigger ass to compensate. There is never a point where he accept responsibility and accepts that Alyssa's past is her business. Aside from her one speech towards the end of the film, this is more about Holden's reaction to events. It's about how sad the end of the relationship makes him. He broods on his own whilst Alyssa goes off with the first chick she can find. The ending doesn't empower her; it just confirms everything that Holden was saying about her.

I've not seen Chasing Amy for a really long time so it was weird going back to it now that it's 20 years old. I'm one of those people that still feel like the 90s was only 10 years ago so this revelation alone was enough to give me the willies. Then you have the representation of sexuality and opinions on display, which just make me feel uneasy now. The 90s was a long time ago and gender politics and sexual identity have come a long way since then. Watching this in 2017 is how I imagine it was in for people in the 90s to rewatch all those racist and sexist sitcoms from the 70s. It's funny, sure, but the general message is a little bit worrying. It feels like the most sensitive and kind-hearted film that Kevin Smith is ever likely to make but there is still so much about this film that just doesn't carry over to 2017. This bro-humour is at odds with the messages he is trying to convey and the half-hearted attempt to turn Banky and Holden's homosocial relationship into an awkward homosexual one. It just doesn't work and Lee and Affleck are both clearly uncomfortable with the idea. Ultimately, there was a time and a place for Kevin Smith's film and that time just isn't now. I'm glad he's not really a thing anymore.

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