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Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) meet fellow comic book artist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a comic book convention in New York City. Holden is immediately smitten with the charming, vivacious young woman but is disappointed when he learns she is attracted to women. Still, the two become friendly and end up spending a lot of time together, which for Holden, only intensifies his growing feelings for someone he can’t have.
Written and directed by Kevin Smith, this solid mix of comedy, romance, and drama, is a surprisingly sensitive look at two people in an emotionally challenging relationship. While there are a lot of good laughs hinging on the themes, none of them come at their expense, which adds a great deal of weight to the experience. Doused in 90s flavor, the film feels a bit dated, but is supremely written and performed. That’s what Smith did best in these early films, taking risks that paid off, like when the three leads sit in a bar and Banky and Alyssa regard “battle wounds” from sexual encounters, filmed to mimic the famous moment in Jaws when the men compare scars. It’s obvious but funny and inventive without feeling contrived. The film is full of moments like this. Chasing Amy is a touching story that has a lot to offer and still holds up well today.
Even after a short time together, Holden has fallen passionately hard for Alyssa. It’s effecting his every waking moment, and the more time they spend in each other’s company, the more difficult it becomes for him to keep his emotions in check. Finally, on a rainy drive home one evening, he pulls over on a side street and lets it all out, confessing that while he adores their friendship and considers her his friend, she is everything he has looked for in a human being. It’s not a crush nor misplaced affection, it is true and it is all he thinks about. He can’t take it anymore. He can’t stand next to her without wanting to hold her. Can’t look into her eyes without breaking down. Can’t talk to her without wanting to express his feelings. He loves her. And he knows he’s crossing a line, but he swears there is something, a hesitation, even it is small, that she feels for him and if she could just embrace that for a few seconds and allow herself to feel it, maybe she could give them a shot. But he sees in her eyes that it can’t be, that she will turn him down, but even at the cost of their relationship, it’s important that she know.
The fear of unrequited love holds many back from taking the chance on finding love. Even suspecting the word “no” is a powerful deterrent in expressing one’s true feelings. So we play the game and we tease and we flirt and then we assess and guess and gage our odds, but few take the leap without knowing there is a safe landing. Holden has been without a safe landing from the start. He knows he’s balancing on a line suspended over a sea of sharks. Yet he stays where he is, hoping against hope the sharks will swim away and the water will be clear. But after so long precariously holding on, he can’t maintain his footing and must make the fall. All he can do is hope that on he way down his courage will tame the beasts.
This is Holden’s moment. He’s spent till now in agony as Alyssa grows like a flower in his chest, it’s stem unintentionally wrapping around his heart, choking him to death. It’s desperation that makes him stop the car, more willing to face the sharks than spend one more second suspended over a dream he cannot have. This is not anything new in movies. Typically when one confesses love for one they can’t have it’s an issue of race or culture, though often it tends to be socio-economic status. This was the motivation behind dozens of 80s and 90s teen films. Here though, Smith adds a new element, and one that would seem objectively set in stone. Alyssa is gay and has to this point expressed her firm commitment to that, but the human heart is a tricky thing and while Smith doesn’t make this too complicated, he does make it a challenge and Alyssa’s impassioned response to Holden is truly effective in making that clear. She is who she is and how dare he say these words to her. She isn’t a switch that can change current. This isn’t a rough patch at the start of a relationship. She loves women. But Holden is also unlike any person she’s ever known, and sometimes, that might be enough. She gives in to the emotional moment and falls into his arms weeping with a frightening mix of trepidation and confusion.
A bit later in the film, Silent Bob (Smith), a character by name and reputation who rarely says a word, gives his character’s longest ever speech, explaining to Holden that he too had a difficult relationship where he became hung up on his girlfriend’s sexual past, leading him to break up with her, a decision that has haunted him since, causing him in some way to be ‘chasing’ her in relationships with other girls. He explains that what’s important is that one must accept who they are attracted to for what and who they are, a lesson that Holden is realizing he needs to learn.
But here, in the rain, these two characters, who are both wonderfully fleshed out, share a powerfully emotional moment. It establishes much about the dynamic of their relationship and is convincing of why it can work. Smith does a great job keeping this simple and clean, not overly-dramatizing the confrontation but allowing it to be just close-ups of each. There’s no music or visual cues to manipulate the moment, allowing Affleck’s admittedly contrived speech to be all the more effective. But it’s Lauren Adams who captures it best, her voiceless reactions inside the car and her explosive, poignant backlash outside that have the most impact. This is an all-around career-making performance and it’s here that she really gives Alyssa heart. We’ve all, like Holden, been falling a little in love with her as the story went on, but it’s in this scene where we are swept away and will chase her anywhere.
Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Smith