• The Hows and Whys of Chasing Amy

    By Kevin Smith

    The story thus far . . .

    Clerks had been over-praised, Mallrats had been over-bashed. We’d been to both ends of the spectrum. The third time is always supposed to be the charm, so we were able to approach Chasing Amy from a very liberated position: what better could they ever say about us than they did the first time, and what worse could they ever say about us than they did the second?

    And that made it somewhat easy to make an honest film.

    There are these unspeakable, ingrained mistruths men are brought up to believe about sex: We’re dominant, we should go to bed with whores, but wake up with virgins . . . those things that we’re not necessarily taught, but that—thanks to our patriarchal society—still become part of our consciousness, regardless. And in figuring this out, one endeavors to be above such unenlightened outlooks. These poor slobs are called ’90s liberal males, and I counted myself proudly amongst their numbers.

    Until Joey.

    It’s no secret that the origins of Amy resided in my then-relationship with the woman who’d brought the uncompromising, distaff main character of Alyssa Jones so vividly to life—Joey Lauren Adams. Granted, Joey wasn’t gay, and I’ve never fallen in love with a lesbian (well, not that I know of anyway). But the movie did grow out of my initial reaction to Joey’s past (which, in all fairness, wasn’t nearly as salacious as Alyssa’s crafted history; a history which has since—more than likely—prompted many a parent to lock up their teenage daughters).

    They say opposites attract, but they don’t say anything about how opposites can manage to stay together after said attraction fades and the opposites are left facing the fact that they haven’t much in common—a useful bit of info that they never care to share (they usually stink, in my opinion . . . whoever they may be).

    Joey and I were no strangers to that little quandary: I was a guy from Highlands, New Jersey, content to live and die in the same 20-mile radius I’d spent almost all of my life in up to that point. She was from North Little Rock, Arkansas, but you wouldn’t know it. Joey’d done some traveling, living in Australia, Bali, New Orleans, San Diego, and then settled in Los Angeles. I like my gatherings small and intimate; Joey likes hers huge, loud, and loaded with spirits of all varieties. Joey’s into the Salvation Army and the hidden treasures every woman knows lie therein; I’m a Toys-R-Us kid.

    But these were small-time compared to the differences in our sexual history.

    Seemingly, the thorny issue in the romantic career of every young man (or “guy” as we’re called during that awkward period between high school and true adulthood), a partner’s sexual past has a way of ruining an otherwise healthy relationship (well, that’s not entirely true; the past may be the issue, but the guy himself is usually the dork who does the relationship trashing). And being a “guy,” I was no exception—my insecurities always stemmed from the fear of having to measure up to somebody . . . or to a lot of somebodies.

    And that’s where this ’90s liberal male was tripped up. The guy who’d mused over myriad things sexual in his first flick (from sucking one’s own dick to necrophilia) was undone by sex his significant other had had long before she knew he existed. And the day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met . . . well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.

    Watching this film, the viewer can find me in every nook and cranny. The character of Holden is the closest to me I’ve ever written (casting Ben was aesthetically wishful thinking perhaps), and Alyssa is actually my voice of reason that I’d never listen to (I knew what I was doing/feeling was immature, but you just can’t fight City Hall, sometimes). Banky bares the marks of my feelings about allegiance (oh, I hated the kind of friends who’d start dating someone and suddenly disappear—balance, I’d say; constant sex, they’d say), while Hooper voices my thoughts about the politics of the gay community (particularly in the record-store scene). The Jay and Silent Bob scene is always a little eerie to watch, in that it’s very much me having a conversation with my two most popular creations (while returning to them the dignity they were stripped of when I swung them from ceilings and had them chased by Keystonelike cops in Mallrats). This flick, more than the other two, is me on a slab, laid out for the world to see.

    And believe me—that’s scary.

    But aside from that stuff, there are the laughs. I find this flick funnier than my first two. The humor, while often racy, is well-developed (and as much as I love Clerks—I mean, come on: that fucking-the-dead-guy bit was so easy). I was proud of the fact that, even though we’re dealing with a pair of friends again, there is no “straight-man” per se (although using that term in this flick can be dicey)—Ben and Jason bounce off one another equally. And the scene where Banky and Alyssa compare their oral sex scars (à la Jaws) represents, to me, everything that is great about independent film: edgy and smart content that a studio would ax early on in the development stage (and I know whereof I speak—there was a version of this scene in Rats, and the studio made me take it out).

    I love this flick to death. This will always be closest to my heart for reasons obvious and not so obvious. And it makes a hell of a palate-cleanser for the next flick (Dogma). I grew up making this movie, both in craft and in general. I hope it gets you somewhere…preferably in the heart.

21 comments

  • By Jesse
    December 17, 2009
    07:32 PM

    Thanks for writing this man, I just saw the movie again last night. I saw it when it was new back in 97. Its a touching story and rings true for many of us guy's becoming men. Terrific work. It def took me back. As a student of film in school and in life true stories all ways make for the best films, even (especially) with some embellishment I see and feel the humanity and love in this movie. Cheers Jesse
    Reply
  • By Kevin
    February 14, 2010
    12:13 PM

    Kevin Smith, you are a d-bag - The Internet
    Reply
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    • By Joe
      February 09, 2014
      09:40 AM

      Wow grow a pair. He basically shows you something he learned that most men can relate to and u trash it. Not to mention he has the balls to ressurect himself on screen forever. Which is more than i can say for u. Your a dude with a little man complex and a keyboard. Ive seen every film not to mention my girlfriend is a huge fan. And before u make judgements there she is ninety five pounds And more attractive then any women I've met or even seen in my constant movings around California.Next time u produce something with as much talent and wit as any of these films, I'll retract my statement and scold myself for what I said. But for now... Out of every Kevin I've met or heard of\ been introduced to (in the media or otherwise) he is the only Kevin I like. So climb off your high horse and do something. Either put my words to shame or continue your minuscule existence.... D-bag
  • By Mike Petrow
    August 25, 2010
    04:00 PM

    I feel that this film IS indeed a good film. It goes into the emotions that we males deal with - having a cool girlfriend thats perfect except for a couple things. Here it's a lesbian issue, but it is also a sexual past. This past is daunting and off putting. It is something that we cannot truly leave behind until we are mature enough. Kevin Smith writes this very well. The aesthetics have never been Smith's focus, but his honest writing.
    Reply
  • By Scott Schiaffo
    March 22, 2011
    01:15 AM

    Thanks Kevin for a fantastic look into this very personal film. Yeah it’s true, I love all of Kevin’s stuff, and of course I am quite partial to say the least. I think he really did hit a home run with Chasing Amy, but hell I loved Mallrats at the gate too, it was John Hughes in a mall in NJ, what’s not to love….and it gave us Jason Lee! So I saw Amy the night it opened in Ridgewood NJ with a packed house of Kevin denizens and it was such a wonderful night. To watch Kevin grow as a film maker over the years has been an awesome experience for me. Having had the supreme good fortune to work with Kevin on his first opus I have since looked on him like a younger cousin who I can both brag about and be proud of! LOL I was so impressed with this young man when we first met I said to myself either he’ll have a huge career or no one will get it, which is usually the fate of many rogue geniuses. Luckily we all got it and Kevin’s still making awesome films for us all. That is until now? I haven’t kept up on the details of what Kevin’s been up to lately but the notion that he’s not going to write and direct anymore saddens me tremendously. All the best to you always sir, Scott Schiaffo
    Reply
  • By douglassanders
    May 05, 2011
    12:15 PM

    casey affleck plays little boy? how?he was 20 at the time.
    Reply
  • By Olivia Starnes-Zielinsky
    June 24, 2011
    05:11 PM

    When I first started dating my now husband back in college, I had never had a boyfriend or any experience (sexual or otherwise) in a relationship. When the inevitable subject arose, I freaked out. Upon voicing my concerns (i.e. having an anxiety attack just thinking about the girls that came before me), he told me to watch "Chasing Amy". While I may not have totally related to the plight of the "90's liberal male" (as Kevin Smith put it), I completely got the message at the heart of the film. Holden's obsession with Alyssa's past ruined what could have turned out to be a completely normal relationship. This was exactly what I was doing: sabotaging the relationship before it could even get off of the ground over a past that had nothing to do with me and didn't affect our current relationship in any way. "Chasing Amy" made me confront my insecurities and deal with them rather then letting it drive us apart. So Kevin, if you're reading this, it got me right where you wanted it to: in the heart.
    Reply
  • By Rick Derris
    July 13, 2011
    12:51 AM

    Thanks for the essay Kevin! You rule - although "Clerks" was not over-praised. I can never say enough regarding how great it was :)
    Reply
  • By alan
    November 15, 2011
    07:37 PM

    This movie is terrible. Come on. Kevin Smith doesn't belong in this collection anymore than Michael Bay does.
    Reply
  • By systemBuilder
    January 28, 2012
    04:32 AM

    It just seems impossible that you could write a movie about your relationship with a girl you were dating, and in the movie the relationship ends (or at least stalls for 1 year), and that you could then PUT THAT VERY SAME GIRL in the starring role of the movie ... and i read you did it before your relationship had ended? Were you were foreshadowing your own future by making a movie about your own future together?
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    • By Eli
      November 24, 2012
      07:26 AM

      life and art aren't always the same and they don't necessarily an imitation of one another. just because that was the reason for Holden and Alyssa breaking up, doesn't mean it was the reason for Kevin and Joey doing the same later on. so I doubt they had broken up over that subject. I guess they had an unpleasent discussion about it but kept on the with the relationship while he was working his emotions out through writing and movie-making. she probably knew it was about her while shooting. maybe she didn't like the final cut and how it portrayed her (though i can't imagine why). but it's more reasonable they broke up because of other reasons entirely - just like other couples.
  • By James
    December 14, 2012
    10:07 AM

    What is this movie doing in such reputable collection? I do not understand. "Chasing Amy" is just the ultimate male fantasy: making love to a lesbian and turning her straight (as she naturally should be).
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    • By Lithp
      October 21, 2013
      03:25 AM

      That's not really true, they break up & she has a girlfriend at the end. And that is the only thing I understood about the synopsis that I read. How does it go from "save my relationship & my friendship" to "we should have a threesome"? I don't follow that logic.
    • By Gord
      October 22, 2013
      10:01 PM

      James, I thought the same thing when I saw this for the first time several years ago. The film does have it's good qualities. And I thought it doubly insulting because Kevin's brother is gay. I sort of like Kevin when he talks here or there, but his success is more to do with being an excellent self-promoter. No one loves Kevin like Kevin - I matured past his shallow writing way before I saw he films, but a certain type seem to love him and all the best to the poor little darlings, haha. And I have no idea what Lisp [sp.] was trying to say, but I think s/he disagrees with us.
  • By Jenna
    October 14, 2013
    08:30 PM

    Love love love this movie(all your movies actually but this one is my favorite)..i saw it in the theater with my then 1st girlfriend-we were very bi-curious & we have both gone on to other relationships.recently,after 15 years,we started talking again & something she brought up was how every time she saw chasing amy,she thought of me.and I of her.this movie was so true of relationships on so many levels..
    Reply
  • By Vance
    November 03, 2013
    05:20 AM

    Kevin, Thanks for the film and the essay. On a serious note, please tell me, how ... how does one ever stop "chasing Amy" so to speak?
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    • By jamie
      January 27, 2014
      12:12 AM

      I must agree, you don't stop Chasing. The phrase "the one who got away" often applies to this scenario. If you've truly, truly learned from it and grown, then you must take that for what is and accept that odds are there is too much emotional pain for the two of you to ever give it another shot. You must take solace in the fact that if you've really grown and bettered yourself because of that person and your experience, then if you do ever get that one in a million chance to try again, you'll be ready. But you must also accept the low probability of that happening, and if you're really thankful to them and have had true personal growth, then you're better off and they will always be someone special even if you never get a chance to try again. Theyve made you who you are in a way that no one else can, and to Chase Amy IMO is to always have that place in your heart for what they mean to you, what you learned from them and how they changed you for the better. Such is the often heartbreaking nature of "the one who got away"- you must deal with the ways in which they made you better while also accepting the fact that most times, there is no second chance.
  • By htims nivek doppelganger
    November 05, 2013
    06:54 AM

    Sadly, my friend, you don't. you set it aside, ignore it, do other stuff but you never stop.
    Reply
  • By jerryjuiceteria
    November 07, 2013
    12:28 AM

    this movie is insufferably bad; i had to watch it for class and i can't see how it deserves a place in the canon.. smith even fails to actually do any director-like things like use cinematic devices to his advantage until the clumsy hockey-confrontation scene. his visual style is entirely defined by the shot-reverse shot--and while i know he's not a visual director, really, i don't see the other allegedly awesome qualities shining through to distract me from the dreary lack of technique while i enjoyed some scenes for their dialogue, especially the jay and silent bob scene, i don't find the conversations all that enlightening or clever--for the most part they're just smith making absurd commentary on pop culture, which is kind of entertaining but loses steam quickly. furthermore smith fails entirely in dealing with drama--i'm talking here not only about the painful-to-watch threesome proposition (i thought "alright here's a joke which may be a little built up but it'll be cool to see the expectation-flipping punchline" then it turned out affleck was going to say exactly what we thought he was going to say), i also mean to say that affleck's mostly non-comedic character is so stupid he's almost impossible to relate to (and its hard to see how alyssa could, she seems far cooler than him...) and particularly his speech to alyssa while driving through a rainstorm is laughably clichéd. found it hard to sit through the entire film. also i feel like the trick-out when alyssa turns out not to be completely lesbian is unwarranted: there are no clues to this leading up, which in itself would be fine, but i can't see why a clearly intelligent and moral person like alyssa would go to such lengths to deliberately, directly lie to holden (i hope to god he's not named after caulfield that would be highly inappropriate as this guy's totes a phony) and freak out about how she was born a lesbian and she can't just flip her whole worldview. just have a lot of respect for criterion and unless distributing this was for commercial reasons at the advent of the company's DVD game i fail to understand this film's place here alongside such marvels of cinema
    Reply
  • By DANIELLE DAWN
    December 14, 2013
    12:09 AM

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myvod1LCpVk "Chasing Andy" is Watermark Pictures' rendition of the 1997 American romantic comedy, "Chasing Amy" written and directed by Kevin Smith. We reversed the roles of this classic scene to give a new perspective of this all too familiar story about a girl who falls in love with her gay best friend. Unrequited love is not an uncommon part of the human experience. Most films portray a man pining over the female object of his affections, but rarely show that similar vulnerability in a woman. http://watermark-pictures.com/
    Reply
  • By jamie
    January 26, 2014
    11:56 PM

    Holden is a very ignorant, flawed character, who makes many mistakes and does not "win the girl" in the end. Im not sure why people disparaging this film expect that a 20-something who writes a comic called Bluntman and Chronic for a living is supposed to be a well of emotional depth and maturity. He does however grow as a person and learn from his mistakes- which namely were placing his own desires and insecurites over the needs of those closest to him. This behavior is not glorified or rewarded- he loses the two people closest to him and is left only with a slim chance at reconcilliation. Which he pours of all his energy into- as evidenced by the fact he gives up his best selling comic and works soley on one that expresses his regret and realization of his mistskes. At the end of the film, he offers Alyssa a sincere, heartfelt apology in the hope of understanding, and nothing more. For most of the film he is immature, misguided and often irrational and the movie does not pretend otherwise or reward him for it. However, he does demonstrate a large capacity for empathy and understadning, even if his actions indicate otherwise. He selfishly causes great pain to the two people he cares most about, but he finally realizes this, learns from it and attempts to atone. People giving this movie a bad review are getting too caught up in the good reviews they've read and are totally missing the point- Holden's insecurities and ignorance are not glorified or rewarded- however he gets by for so long because after all he represents a common male archetype- especially considering when the movie was made. People are harping on Holden's flaws as if they take away from the film, when really its really the whole point. If he was already enlightened and perfectly secure enough in himself to take Alyssa as is and balance his friendship with Banky accordingly, there would be no conflict at all. There would be no room for growth- which is the heart of the film- itd be called "I have the two best relationships ever And I lived happily ever after". If you can accept that Holden is a flawed character from the beginning and see the nuance- the film makes a lot more sense. He doesn't try to change alyssa- he realizes that its HE who needs to change and makes those personal changes anyway.
    Reply

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