Chasing Amy

(1997) *** R
105 min. Miramax Films. Director: Kevin Smith. Cast: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes.

/content/films/3630/1.jpgIn 1997, Chasing Amy was hailed as the most mature film of a filmmaker recently written off as immature. Writer-director Kevin Smith had taken indie cinema by storm with Clerks and been put through the Hollywood wringer in the process of making the financial flop Mallrats (since a success on home video). In point of fact, Chasing Amy is still pretty immature, but at least it's all about fleering and scorning at immaturity. Ironic, that.

In an early leading role, Ben Affleck stars as comic book writer-artist Holden McNeil, who with inking partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) publishes the indie-comic upstart "Bluntman & Chronic" (the artwork seen on screen is by Mike Allred). These Jersey boys share a comfortable live-in work space, but their mutuality and domesticity becomes threatened when Holden meets a fellow comic-book creator named Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams). Holden appreciates Alyssa's authenticity: she publishes a relationship-themed comic called "Idiosyncratic Routine," the sort of meaningful material Holden would rather do than the popular but formulaic adventures of two heroic stoners. Alyssa is also smart, attractive, and funny, and she fearlessly calls it as she sees it. There's only one "problem": she's a lesbian.

Where this story goes is intriguing and provocative, but also problematic at its turning point. Midway through the film, Smith requires a temporary suspension of disbelief that he underwrites to Adams' detriment (her character must skip a step, emotionally). Still, Smith continues to talk a good game with his dialogue, and he reserves his strongest blows for his own surrogate, Holden. Smith long ago confessed that Chasing Amy was inspired by his own lack of maturity in his relationship with Adams, and he mercilessly paints Holden as a smart guy who's an idiot when it comes to love: not only can Holden not abide the thought of the past sexual exploits of the object of his affection, but the proposed solution to his discomfort—which he considers a stroke of genius—is demeaning to everyone. 

The distinctly R-rated Chasing Amy includes plenty of lewd talk (Banky, who has issues, slings homophobic slurs), cultural allusions (the film begins at the "Manhattan Comic-Con"), and combinations of the two (a Jaws parody in which two characters compare oral-sex injuries). There's a hilarious riff on inking vs. "tracing," Smith's customary Star Wars riffs and references to Catholicism, and a closeted gay man who plays the public role of Black Powerful comic creator Hooper-X (a very funny Dwight Ewell): his book is named "White-Hating Coon," and he has a sensational flair for publicity. Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes show up as Jay and Silent Bob, the inspirations for Bluntman and Chronic; also on hand in cameos are Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Ethan Suplee, and Brian O'Halloran.

Yes, Chasing Amy is "talky" (why is that an insult, again?) and shot largely in medium shots with the camera awkwardly plopped in front of the actors, but it was also made for a bargain $250,000. In bridging the indie audience of a Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) with his own audience, Smith has made a film with the potential to improve gender relations—without sacrificing his profane style.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/17/2009

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Chasing Amy was previously issued on DVD by the Criterion Collection, but it's now available in a three-BD set called Kevin Smith 3-Movie Collection. Though the Criterion commentary does not reappear on Blu-ray, it's replaced by a brand-new, Blu-exclusive audio commentary with writer/director/actor Kevin Smith and producer Scott Mosier. The image quality on the feature is top-notch, though one must keep in mind that the film was shot on the cheap and is never going to look particularly sharp, bright or colorful. The transfer accurately and cleanly presents the film at its best advantage: any more than that, and they would be changing the filmmaker's intent. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix likewise makes the most of the source audio, which demands mostly crisp dialogue reproduction and a bit of musical fullness.

Fans are more likely to be won over to this upgrade by another of View Askew Productions' patented feature-length making-of docs. The brand-new, Blu-exclusive "Tracing Amy: The Chasing Amy Doc" (1:21:15, HD) features rare archival material and interviews with Mosier, Smith, Jon Gordon of Miramax Films, filmmaker Guinevere Turner, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Mark Tusk of Miramax, director of photography Dave Klein, associate producer Bob Hawk, film critic Amy Taubin, and Jason Mewes.

"Was It Something I Said? A Conversation with Kevin & Joey" (18:07, HD) is exactly what it sounds like, and it's also brand new and Blu-exclusive.

The final of the brand-new Blu exclusives is a "10 Years Later Q&A" (27:46, SD) with Smith, Adams, Affleck, Lee, Mewes, Dwight Ewell, and Mosier.

Preserved from the previous release are ten "Deleted Scenes" (25:01, SD), "Outtakes" (4:56, SD) and the film's "Trailer" (2:05, SD).

For the film's fans, this upgrade is a no-brainer, and first-time adopters can also proceed with confidence to this excellent HD edition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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