Clerks | Mallrats | Chasing Amy | Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back | Clerks II | Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Chasing Amy (1997) is the third in the View Askewniverse series of films directed by Kevin Smith. 108 minutes long, the film is set over the course of a year between two annual Manhattan Comic Cons, though most of the film takes place in New Jersey. The film charts the relationship between two talented comic book artists: Holden McNeil, and Alyssa Jones who is gay. Of all the films that Smith has made to date, this is by far the most personal. It is also the film that has attracted the most critical praise, despite a vocal minority opposing the film's storyline.
Holden and Banky co-write the popular Bluntman and Chronic comic book series. This was inspired by Holden's friends Jay and Silent Bob and features two stoners, also called Jay and Silent Bob, who fight villains under the aliases of Bluntman and Chronic. At a convention they meet Alyssa Jones, author of another comic book series. Holden falls in love with Alyssa and then discovers that she is gay. After trying to be just her friend he blurts out his feelings for her and is stunned that these feelings are reciprocated.
Holden and Alyssa's relationship is frowned upon by their friends, with Banky in particular determined to split the two apart. He discovers that Alyssa had a reputation at high school for promiscuously experimenting sexually. Alyssa describes this as her attempts to find herself during her teenage years, as she had not been 'born with a road map pointing from A to B'. This part of her life had ended over a decade ago. Jealous that he wasn't the first man she had made love with and resentful through feeling that he and Alyssa can't have a 'normal relationship', Holden is unable to accept that Alyssa's wild past is behind her. Can two people in love survive the pressures imposed by society and events long past?
Characters and actors in Bold appear in other View Askewniverse films.
|Holden McNeil, comic book artist||Ben Affleck|
|Alyssa Jones, comic book author and Holden's love interest||Joey Lauren Adams|
|Banky Edwards, Holden's best friend, business partner, colourist and inker||Jason Lee|
|Hooper X, camp, gay author of a Black Power themed comic||Dwight Ewell|
|Jay, inspiration for Chronic||Jason Mewes|
|Silent Bob, inspiration for Bluntman||Kevin Smith|
|Little Kid||Casey Affleck|
|Jim Hicks, executive||Brian O'Halloran|
|Shawn Oran, executive||Matt Damon|
|Kim, Alyssa's girlfriend||Carmen Lee, née Llywelyn|
|Con Woman, Alyssa's partner||Virginia Smith|
Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards (Ben Affleck and Jason Lee)
Holden and Banky are the artists behind successful comic book (and later film) characters Bluntman and Chronic, which were inspired by the antics of Jay and Silent Bob. Their friendship and close working relationship came to an end when Holden fell in love with Alyssa Jones. Ben Affleck has also played the abusive Shannon Hamilton in Mallrats and angel Bartleby in Dogma.
Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams)
The sister of Heather Jones and Tricia Jones – characters who appear in earlier films - Alyssa Jones had first been mentioned in Clerks. Alyssa is a comic book artist who has a brief relationship with Holden. A whirlwind character, she is dangerous to know. In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot she and Holden boast that Netflix want to make a series based on her life. Joey Lauren Adams also played Gwen Turner in Mallrats, and though Smith has attempted to cast her in more films in the series, unfortunately financers have preferred to have more famous actresses in main roles.
Many of the usual View Askewniverse cast return. Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Scott Mosier, Smith's sister Virginia Smith and Ethan Suplee all play new roles, while Brian O'Halloran again plays a member of the extended Hicks family. Many of the other actors in small roles were relatives of the main cast, including Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother, playing the man who argues with Banky that being an inker and colourist is merely tracing. Carmen Lee, Jason Lee's wife at the time, played Alyssa's initial girlfriend. A poster of her had appeared in Mallrats. Though performing in the View Askewniverse for the first time, both Matt Damon and Dwight Ewell would return in future films.
Jay and Silent Bob only appear in one scene, in which they collect likeness royalties for being the inspiration for Holden and Banky's comic creation Bluntman and Chronic. They feel offended that they are still being portrayed as shouting Snoochie Boochies and hanging out at the Mall, saying that they have outgrown all that. Other references to previous films include Alyssa mentioning being best friends with Clerks characters Caitlin Bree and Julie Dwyer and other people mentioning other characters Rick Derris, Shannon Hamilton and Gwen Turner, while Banky says he dated Mallrats character Brandi Svenning for six months.
The Thrill of the Chase: Making Chasing Amy
After filming finished on Mallrats, Smith and Adams had a short-lived relationship, before splitting amicably. Despite having separated, Smith nevertheless wrote Chasing Amy with Adams in mind as the female lead. The film was Smith's way of expressing his feelings about how his relationship with Adams did not work out; in real life there had essentially been a class conflict. Smith had felt that he had an unprivileged, humble upbringing and was unable to compete with Adams, who had enjoyed a much greater range of experiences and privileges that he was unable to match. The film is all about these feelings - with his ex-girlfriend as the love interest and Holden, a bearded man who writes comics a very thinly-veiled substitute for Smith himself, another bearded man who has written comics. Incompatible sexualities are thus a metaphor for their different class backgrounds; Holden is unable to cope with knowing Alyssa had a much wider range of sexual experiences when in real life Smith had felt unable to relate to many of Adams' life experiences. Smith also felt aggrieved that there were few films out there for his older brother, who is gay, to relate to.
When writing the script, Smith turned to his friend Guinevere Turner for assistance - she had inspired the character of Gwen Turner in Mallrats. Kevin Smith and producer Scott Mosier had befriended Turner at the 1994 Sundance Festival. She was promoting her independent film Go Fish, which she had starred in and co-written with her then-partner Rose Troche. One of the inspirations for Chasing Amy was a scene in Go Fish in which Turner's character Max imagines what it would be like to have relationship with a man. Another inspiration came from Smith feeling that Mosier had a crush on Turner and felt that this gave the film a personal message. He has since said:
She was the person I'd show pages to… I didn't know anything about being a lesbian, the sexual practices of a lesbian. And mind you, this is pre-internet... I'm kinda proud of myself, I got pretty close. It still looks like obviously someone who's not a lesbian made this movie.
Guinevere Turner agreed:
I thought it was funny, outside of the lesbian content. I loved the friendship between two guys. That kind of bromance hadn't really been invented yet. [I told Smith] lesbians are gonna hate this movie. This is a woman who's been a lesbian her whole life, and stops being a lesbian to be with a man. They're going to crucify it. I was so wrong! A lot of lesbians I know really loved the movie. I remember being embarrassed, like I didn't know my own community.
Miramax, who offered Smith a budget of $3 million for the film, did not feel Adams was right for the role and wanted to recast her, particularly disliking her distinctive voice. They wanted to cast Drew Barrrymore as Alyssa and have David Schwimmer instead of the then-unknown Ben Affleck as Holden. Smith insisted on Adams and Affleck as the leads and, disillusioned by his experience on Mallrats realised he would rather have his preferred cast than a bigger budget. In order to retain full control he made the film for $250,000 with money loaned from Miramax, who had the option of first refusal to distribute. This was undoubtedly the right decision as Joey Lauren Adams dominates the film and makes the role truly her own, even writing and performing the song she sings in the nightclub. Chasing Amy was a commercial as well as a critical success and made over $12 million, 48 times its production cost.
Smith and Affleck remained close friends following Affleck's role in Mallrats. When Smith learnt that Affleck had co-written a film script with Matt Damon he used all his contacts and influence to persuade Miramax to film it with Damon and Affleck in the lead roles, executive producing the film with his View Askew partner Scott Mosier. The film, Good Will Hunting (1997), subsequently was incredibly successful, being nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and winning Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Since then Affleck and Damon have been ever-willing to appear in Smith's films.
Chasing Amy Hunted
'Chasing Amy' is certainly not an important film for the gay community, it's an important film for me.
- Kevin Smith
Romcoms are a genre in which traditionally a boy and a girl who are ideal for each other meet and fall in love, while something, whether other people or a form of division such as class or geography, keeps them apart. This was one of the first films in which the division was incompatible sexualities. This meant the film received both praise and criticism from members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Alyssa is initially portrayed as a lesbian1, although it is later revealed that she has had a more chequered bisexual past, which has proved to be surprisingly divisive. While the film can certainly be criticised for presenting a predominantly male view of a lesbian character, it is more difficult to find evidence supporting the widespread claim that the film was presenting a message that lesbians need to find the right man to find happiness. Of the six lesbian characters that feature in the film, only Alyssa is seen to have any form of relationship with a man – much to the dismay of her friends – and this relationship does not last long. Alyssa finds a new female partner at the end of the film2 and dismisses Holden as 'a guy I used to know'. In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Alyssa is still with the same partner, but she had restored her friendship with Holden, who became the sperm donor and active father of their child.
Of course, expecting members of the LGBTQ+ community all to have the same reaction to a film would be like expecting everyone who has brown eyes to have the same political views or everyone with a beard to work in the comics industry3. Those who feel that sexuality is strictly binary, with everyone either gay or straight and there being no room in between, were more likely to be critical of the film's plot in which a lesbian character has a failed relationship with a man, whereas others who believe that labels such as 'gay' and 'straight' are pigeonholes that do not encompass the whole range of possibilities have been more likely to support the film.
That said, it cannot be denied that Banky is a character who is quick to stereotype and employ a vast range of inappropriate and offensive language including, but certainly not limited to, phrases that can be considered homophobic, though much of his vocabulary is sexual references. His 'bromance' with Holden is the other strong relationship in the film that is threatened by Holden's relationship with Alyssa. Despite Banky's constant use of offensive language he remains close 'friends' with openly gay character Hooper X4.
The negativity Smith received for this film inspired him to create a villainous character named 'Lipstick Lesbian' in 2001 for his Bluntman and Chronic comic book that was later adapted to become Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie (2013). This is unlikely to be considered a diplomatic move on Smith's part.
Amiable: Chasing Amy Review
One of the film's highlights is Hooper X discussing the racist undertones in the Star Wars universe during a Comic Con panel before losing his temper. In another film reference Banky, Holden and Alyssa sit in a lesbian nightclub booth with blue picture frames that looks remarkably like the cabin of the Orca (the not-big-enough boat in Jaws). There Banky and Alyssa discuss their sex injuries in the same way as shark injuries are compared in Jaws.
The film can certainly be criticised for having a lesbian main character but being written by a man, concentrating more on the mechanics than the emotions of a same-sex relationship. Also, there is only one main female character. Although Alyssa is shown as having two groups of close, supportive friends who share her sexuality, they remain unnamed background characters that only appear briefly in the film; one group appears when she is introduced, and another appears later to voice their disapproval and dismay at her decision to pursue a relationship with Holden. Her apparently closest friends are not even given names, being credited simply as 'singer' and 'con woman'. This is in sharp contrast with the bromantic relationship between Holden and Banky as well as between Silent Bob and Jay. Nevertheless the film passes the Bechdel Test: Alyssa talks to her girlfriend Kim about dancing.
Chasing Amy features an uncharacteristically long speech by Silent Bob, as played by Kevin Smith, in which he discusses his regret at breaking up with his (unseen) girlfriend Amy. He says that since then he has always regretted his mistakes and has been chasing Amy. This also is used to become the title of a limited-run comic written by Holden about his and Alyssa's story, which he describes with the words,
I finally had something personal to say.
This one line encompasses Smith's aim, thoughts and feelings for this film.