Chasing Chasing Amy review | A fascinating deep dive into a cult classic

Chasing Chasing Amy Credit_ Bill Winters
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Director Sav Rodgers explores his own journey as a queer trans man while coming to terms with the difficult legacy of his favourite film. Read our Chasing Chasing Amy review. 

Above image credit: Bill Winters

Kevin Smith’s 1997 film Chasing Amy is perhaps his most critically acclaimed work. It may not be his most beloved – I still think that’s Clerks – but it still has a strong, loyal fan base, many of them who found solace in its clumsy exploration of a LGBTQ+ storyline.

Yet, Chasing Amy has also garnered a lot of criticism over the years, and for good reason. Here’s a refresher on the film’s plot: Ben Affleck’s comic book writer meets and falls in love with another comic book writer, Alyssa, played by Joey Lauren Adams. Alyssa, however, is a lesbian, which understandably complicates their budding friendship and any potential relationship.

Smith has openly said that the film’s sexuality politics haven’t aged particularly well and in Chasing Chasing Amy, Sav Rodgers’ documentary on the film’s complicated legacy, Smith is refreshingly open about his own flawed approach to the film.

Chasing Chasing Amy Sav Rodgers

Rodgers clearly holds a lot of love and adoration for not just Chasing Amy, but Smith himself. With Chasing Chasing Amy, Rodgers set out to make a documentary about his favourite film and his own attempts to come to terms with the criticism the film has gathered over the years, but the final result is also a personal, intimate portrayal of his own identity.

The film features several floating head interviews with film critics, industry people and people involved in making Chasing Chasing Amy, weighing in on the film and the circumstances surrounding its release. The documentary also makes a point of showcasing another film that premiered at the same time as Smith’s breakthrough film Clerks.

A scene in Go Fish, written by Guinevere Turner and directed by Rose Troche, inspired Chasing Amy. Turner notes, with only a hint of contempt in her voice, how Smith would lift real-life conversations and put them straight into Chasing Amy, benefitting from the lives of real lesbians who never saw the kind of fame Smith did. Ouch.

A later interview with Adams herself, who was dating Smith at the time of making Chasing Amy, turns out to be the film’s secret weapon. Adams speaks candidly about the time and confesses she doesn’t love her memories of it. Although she speaks of Smith mostly fondly, she also speaks of the open misogyny of the indie film world.

“We all knew who he was,” Adams says, referring to Harvey Weinstein. Chasing Amy premiered at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, which, as Smith regretfully notes, was the same year Rose McGowan was assaulted by Hollywood’s most prolific producer. It lends an undercurrent of tragedy to Rodgers’ film even if it only seems to pull it further away from its original focus.

While Chasing Chasing Amy is constantly compelling, both in creating an admirably comprehensive look at the 90s US indie landscape and of how Chasing Amy fits into the larger cultural conversation almost 30 years later, Rodgers’ personal journey doesn’t always quite fit in. His story is inspiring and heartfelt, but often pushed out of the narrative.

“It’s not the movie I set out to make, but it’s the movie we have,” the director notes towards the end. Despite its flaws, Chasing Chasing Amy comes closest to any modern documentary to actually solve the problem of, or at least offer something meaningful to the conversation about, whether or not it’s appropriate to like, or even love, something deeply problematic.

How do we talk about the works of Kevin Spacey now that his legacy has been complicated by legal matters? Should the Academy have given the Best Actor trophy for Casey Affleck who had been accused of abuse? There are no neat, conclusive answers to such questions, but at least Chasing Chasing Amy has the guts to explore difficult topics with levity, heart and humanity.

Chasing Chasing Amy is playing at the BFI London Film Festival.

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