Chasing Amy, a 1997 romantic dramedy by Kevin Smith, is a very flawed movie, but also a very powerful movie. Smith brings his signature style — quick, witty dialogue mixed with stoner humour — to the LGBT scene, and digs a little deeper than usual.
Ben Affleck stars as Holden McNeil, an uptight comic book artist who makes his living on “dick and fart jokes” while he tries to think of better comic ideas. He lives with his inker, Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), who is totally satisfied with the dick and fart jokes. A running subplot in the film concerns Banky’s desire to turn their comic books into a cartoon series, which Holden is reluctant to do because he feels it will make him into even less of a “true artist”.
During all this, Holden falls in love with fellow artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), who draws a less successful but more artistically-fulfilling comic book. Unfortunately for Holden, he only finds out after falling in love that Alyssa is a lesbian. They can only be friends, so Holden tries to let it go and do just that. He fails, as anyone would, but so does she. Even though she’s supposed to be a lesbian, Alyssa falls in love with Holden and the two start dating.
The rest of the movie is a really harsh and realistic look at relationships, sexuality, and art, which I won’t spoil here. The characters are engaging and relatable while still being very funny; no one person stands out as being “comic relief”, as everyone gets their fair share of punchlines and witty dialogue. The plot is excellent and treads some serious ground without becoming too angsty — an important quality in any story. It all works very well to provide a satisfying experience — a movie with deep characters, big laughs, and a plot that should leave an impact on the audience, no matter how they interpret it.
There are minor gripes to be had with the execution, however. The script drags at times and loses a lot of its humour as the film goes on. There are a few too many dramatic monologues from the characters, especially in the third act. Although the acting is very good for the most part, some of these are a bit too on-the-nose to make sense.
One monologue that does work especially well is given by Alyssa about two thirds of the way into the movie. As she lies in bed with Holden, she talks to him about her sexual identity and experimentation – in such an insightful way that it makes me wonder how a straight man could have written the screenplay. This dialogue in particular is what makes Chasing Amy worth watching. You’ll have to watch the movie to understand — a quotation simply doesn’t have the same impact.
Still, there is one huge problem that looms over the movie and almost ruins it for me. This is a problem I have with the film’s message. Chasing Amy is a movie about a lesbian who falls in love with a man, but the movie excludes a certain word entirely from its dialogue-heavy script. Not once does a character use the word “bisexual” in the entire film — even though Alyssa clearly is.
Alyssa’s self-identification as lesbian is all because she doesn’t want to be ostracized by her gay friends. It’s an unfortunate identity crisis brought on by our society’s implicit acceptance of monosexuality over bisexuality. It’s a bad thing. The only thing worse than being gay in a straight world is being bi in a gay world, which is a message that the character of Alyssa conveys quite well — but only in implication. The film refuses to use the b-word.
Bisexual erasure exists — to many, many people, bisexuality is a “phase” that people will eventually snap out of. Sometimes being bisexual is seen as a cheat, like an unfair advantage that should be discouraged. Attitudes like this cause people to be pigeonholed into the discrete categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality, all depending on the situation. This is shown clearly in the scene where Alyssa tells her friends that she is dating Holden. To Alyssa’s friends, she is “selling out” by allowing herself to be attracted to men — as if she’s straight now and everything previous was just a lie.
Chasing Amy seems to be making a deal with the audience to accept Alyssa’s sexuality for what it is — and to combat bisexual erasure. But by leaving out the b-word entirely, the film paradoxically supports this attitude. Many people — gay and straight alike — misinterpret Chasing Amy as a movie that shows how the right man can turn a lesbian straight. By obfuscating the real meaning and refusing to make its point clear, Kevin Smith panders to audiences who only want to see this misinterpretation.
It’s still a great movie that has a lot to say about sexual identity, but it doesn’t really make an effort to teach the audience anything. It just preaches to the choir. It could have done more than that with minimal effort.