Friday, June 9, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

It’s not which outdated ‘90s rom-com you love. It’s how.

I’ve had a signed Chasing Amy poster hanging in my home for the last twenty years. The DVD was the first Criterion disc I ever bought, my introduction to a label that would open countless cinematic doors in the years to come. As I’ve mentioned on many a podcast, the Amy commentary track was my high school white noise machine; I drifted off to the dulcet tones of Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and the rest of the View Askew gang more nights than I care to admit, eventually memorizing the beats of their conversation just as well as I had those of the movie itself. I would practice Holden’s “I love you” speech in the shower, hoping beyond hope that I’d soon meet a fantastically open-minded lesbian of my very own, or at least someone whose romantic expectations had also been so thoroughly corrupted by movies that they would be thrilled to sit quietly, mouth agape, while I delivered self-indulgent and ultimately misguided monologues on matters of the heart about which I had barely a novice’s level of expertise.
Judging by his new documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, I’m willing to bet that filmmaker Sav Rodgers and I probably have that in common. Growing up queer in the American heartland long after I’d moved on from Amy, Rodgers discovered his parents’ VHS copy of Kevin Smith’s 1997 indie hit and became a swift devotee, later calling it the first film to speak to his budding pansexuality and gender fluidity. His 2018 TED talk details how Amy shaped his adolescence, how seeing LGBTQ characters who were “intelligent and funny and out” shielded him from the barrage of bullying he experienced at school (“It sucks when everyone else knows you’re queer before you do,” he laments at one point). He begins his journey with tours of Amy filming locations — including Leonardo’s Quick Stop and Jack’s Music Shop in Red Bank, to which I have also made the perfunctory pilgrimages — and continues on through interviews with Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Guin Turner (Go Fish), and other ‘90s indie film luminaries.

For his part, Smith is more than candid about his film’s outdated gender and sexual politics — shortcomings that a parade of Zoomer talking heads are quite eager to outline in detail — and remains committed to framing Amy as an avenue of personal expression that never presumed knowledge of the LGBTQ experience. Whether or not that’s an excuse for Banky’s strident homophobia or Alyssa’s surprising heel-turn is entirely up to the viewer — I’ve always argued that both are justified within the text — and even Rodgers notes that Amy was a safe haven primarily because he didn’t know that other queer films, perhaps more representative of his experience, even existed. This section of Chasing Chasing Amy grows into a poignant analysis of what I’ve called the Garden State Phenomenon: That Chasing Amy is outdated is not a strike against it or those who have found comfort in it during their formative years. Art can and should be used and disused in support of personal growth; a thing is not beautiful because it lasts.
But while Rodgers’ film is a charming odyssey that occasionally overturns the odd nugget of trivia — I had no idea that Amy was at least partially inspired by Mosier and the famously-gay Turner’s unconventional friendship — a seasoned View Askew fan will find it largely repetitive until the last third, when Rodgers halts production to deal with the complications of his gender transition and the fallout from a catastrophic interview with actress Joey Lauren Adams. What begins as a feel-good trip down memory lane quickly devolves into uncomfortable chaos as Adams tearfully details her frustration with Smith’s revisionist Amy history, as well as a career crushed by Harvey Weinstein and the rest of the ‘90s Miramax boy’s club. While Smith has always celebrated Chasing Amy as the cathartic release of his provincial insecurity about a then-girlfriend‘s intimidating wealth of life experience, Adams remembers it instead as the cold exploitation of a very private conflict that would soon tear their relationship apart.
Thankfully, Rodgers has the intelligence and empathy to examine his own complicity in that pain, to consider how a film that gave him such a vibrant and endearing voice may have stifled the voice of the very person who inspired its production in the first place. Art is a complex beast, after all, and Chasing Chasing Amy is a vulnerable and fascinating look at the risks we take when we choose to love something (or someone) enough to commit that love to celluloid. Perhaps more crucially, it’s a stern reminder that we have the right to grow beyond that love, to make peace with a version of ourselves who clung to it just to keep from drowning during our darkest moments. We’re allowed to grow our sea legs, to hold lessons from our favorite movies, books, and songs close to our hearts even if they don’t feel as profound or incisive as they used to. All it means is that we’ve survived, moved on; we’ve made it through with their help, forever changed because of what they are and what they’ve meant to us.

Chasing Chasing Amy premiers at the Tribeca Film Festival and in limited theatrical release today.

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