The Hows and Whys of Chasing Amy

Jun 27, 2000

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.