Chasing Amy (Criterion Collection) Review
Kevin Smith is a fairly easy director to pigeonhole; a fantastic dialogue writer, a poor visual artist and a man who is truly obsessed with Star Wars and comic books. His films tend to include shockingly raunchy jokes, although little actual sex or nudity, but they also contain many surprisingly moving or affecting moments. Chasing Amy is perhaps his best film to date, an award-winning examination of male dysfunction that still manages to be frequently gut-bustingly funny.
The basic plot is a Smith standard. Holden (Affleck) and Banky (Lee) are moderately successful comic book artists. At a conference, Holden meets and is attracted to Alyssa, who appears to reciprocate his feelings. Unfortunately, it transpires that she is a lesbian. The plot then follows an unpredictable course, as characters reveal hidden depths, as well as the welcome reappearance of Jay and Silent Bob.
It's actually quite hard to describe why this film is so enjoyable; the direction is horribly poor, with scene after scene having no more visual stimulation than a camera being pointed at actors speaking dialogue. This isn't helped by the low budget ($500,000 or thereabouts). Yet Smith is one of the great writers working today, a man who understands male neuroses, as well as female self-doubt. Yet his greatest achievement here, and one not repeated as successfully in Dogma, is to temper the serious themes with many hysterical moments. The character of Banky is especially amusing, a man who genuinely believes that it is in the public interest to show small children pornography, and Jason Lee, in his second film, plays the part to perfection. It's also interesting watching Affleck before he became a megastar, as he delivers a completely vanity-free performance. It's perhaps too early to describe their collaborations together as a great combination of actor and director, but the foundations are certainly laid here.
Joey Lauren Adams is more problematic. She is given a virtually impossible role for any actress that could easy have turned into a kind of misogynistic male fantasy figure (i.e the lesbian who's willing to be 'converted'), but she manages to inject humour and humanity into the part. However, she also has an infamously irritating voice, which sounds like Kathleen Turner on helium, which makes listening to her shouting for any length of time a somewhat trying experience. Smith is to blame for any indulgence of her, as he was going out with her when the film was made, thus giving a whole new meaning to the old gag about the actress being so stupid that she slept with the writer. Come to think of it, that sounds like an embryonic Kevin Smith film....
The picture is difficult to categorise. From one point of view, it looks poor; it's very grainy, it seems dark throughout and there's a fair bit of softness in some of the scenes. However, none of this is Criterion's fault, as the film was originally filmed using 16mm and blown up to 35mm, thus making it look far worse than any of Smith's other films. In terms of the transfer itself, it's a fine effort from Criterion as usual, with little shimmering or dirt to spoil the print, as well as little scratching. A slight disappointment then, but the best that this film could conceivably look. Incidentally, some early copies of the DVD had a shot wrongly framed; it is believed that they have been suppressed.
Criterion have remixed the soundtrack to 5.1; it's really rather hard to see why they bothered. There's virtually no surround action in the film, as most scenes consist of characters talking in rooms. It's always better to have 5.1 than stereo for the few scenes that involve some slight surround effects, such as the comic conference at the start, but this is a very subdued effort. However, there's nothing wrong with it; dialogue is clear, the music is clear and it's hard to imagine that you'd want anything else from a disc of this type.
Criterion have done rather well with this little lot, even if they are a port of the laserdisc's extras. The best extra is probably the commentary, which, unusually for Criterion, has all the participants talking at the same time, rather than separately and edited together. It's pretty much business as usual for Smith, Affleck and co, although the tone is slightly more serious than on the Mallrats commentary, which was recorded after this, although the disc was released before; this was originally recorded for laserdisc, thus explaining Smith's opening comment 'F*ck DVD'
Smith appears in an amusing video introduction to apologise for his commentary comment, as well as in other introductions to explain the supplements. The deleted scenes are a good bunch, and are all of a high standard; there are rather less of them than on the Mallrats or Dogma DVDs, but the laugh ratio is also rather higher. There's an especially amusing alternative opening, featuring Steve-Dave, fanboy extraordinaire.
Other extras are more conventional. There are some outtakes, funnier than most; a trailer, which tries a little too hard to make the film look funny; and an interesting insert in the disc explaining the origins of characters in the 'New Jersey Trilogy' of Clerks, Mallrats and this, along with a short essay on the film by Smith. It's hard to think of any extras that aren't on this disc that you would actually want; Criterion have done well once again.
The film is excellent, a rare example of that awful cliche 'funny and moving', and well worth a watch even for people who don't normally like Kevin Smith's films. The picture and sound are necessarily mediocre, but about the best they could be. The extras are excellent, and well worth watching more than once. It's very easy to recommend this disc as one of Criterion's better releases, and that's saying a lot.