Volume 2, Number 5 -- May, 1997

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Creatures From Mars

Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy delves into the male psyche

by Tony Han

 We (I) have pondered many times the simplicity of the male half of the human species. It's an issue that my colleague has previously entertained from a painfully blunt and understandably simple perspective [reference to Dean's column]. Though, in all honesty, it's a notion that the bravest, most honest, (and fairly stupid) representatives of our sex have offered to the opposite sex for many generations. I'd like to believe and hope that our female counterparts are thinking that all of this talk of the stupidity and simplicity of the male is merely a collaborative ruse in order to lull women into a false sense of superiority. Trust me: We're not that complex. However, we never stop in our quest to better ourselves. It's futile and usually makes a bigger mess of things, but it's as genetic as our simplicity. And this is precisely topic that Kevin Smith stirs up in his newest movie, Chasing Amy.
 MENTAL STATE TO BE IN WHILE WATCHING THIS FILM: Definitely relaxed; let's take this movie at a gentle buzz. Chasing Amy is definitely a movie to be watched with the best of intentions as it was Smith's when he made this film. The movie centers around one man's struggle with his love for a lesbian and promiscuous woman. Throw into this interpersonal soup his conflict with his long time friend over this issue; his relationship with a experimental and experience woman and homosexuality. This movie may sound like a Brother's McMullen, but it's not for the weak hearted or close minded. It's closer to a mixture between the Brother's McMullen and Jeffrey with a blunt (some may consider vulgar) dialogue style and subject matter.
 For Kevin Smith fans or simply those who have seen Clerks and Mallrats (Smith's previous and only works) and remember them, it's a well appreciated story that have ties with the first two. It's not that the characters are the same, rather they all know about each other. There are either blunt or subtle references between all three. In terms of actors, Jason Lee from Mallrats returns to play a different character, Holden McNeill's (played by Ben Affleck) sidekick, but still giving his role a very hilarious twist. Ben Affleck himself had played the evil young-men's-fashion store manager in Mallrats. Joey Lauren Adams actually returns as the same character from Mallrats. And the most welcome familiar sight is the cameo scene with Jay and Silent Bob played by Jason Mewes and, yes, Kevin Smith. And Silent Bob actually has more than one line in this movie. And, lastly, Brian O'Halloran who played Dante from Clerks and had a supporting role in Mallrats pops up for a short moment in this movie.
 With Kevin Smith's third movie released, it becomes easier to see his concerns and movie making style. At this point, all three of his films have been about the trials and tribulations of a guy trying 'understand' if not court the female. And this leading male actor always has a male friend to help and hinder him. In Chasing Amy, Smith has taken more time to develop his themes than in the previous two. Clerks is Smith's first movie and it shows. It made Kevin Smith famous for him not only creating a quality film, but for doing it with the budget of the cost of a new car. Mallrats is a homage to Eighties movies and was understandably, though unwarrantedly trashed by reviewers. It was Kevin Smith's pet project; an idea that he's probably been carrying around like extra baggage. He made it, he knew the risks, and he has moved on. Though the humorous element may never leave his films, Chasing Amy is more serious than the other two and reflects, according to a few interviews, problems that he himself are struggling with. The male characters that Smith creates are closer to reality than many men are ready to admit. Though it may be argued that Smith is only what twenty-five? But for a twenty-something, he's got a good eye for characters.
 OFF THE BEATEN PATH: I remember reading somewhere once that Kevin Smith is an admirer of director Hal Hartley. In fact, in Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, a book about independent films, Smith refers to Hartley's film Trust as impressive and inspirational. The last interesting connection between Smith and Hartley is the gay black man in Chasing Amy, Dwight Ewell. The only other place that I've seen Ewell is in two Hal Hartley movies. A contemporary of Smith's and similarly based in New York, Hal Hartley creates off-beat, intelligent movies about people and relationships. I myself am a fan of Hartley's works and have enjoyed his pseudo French 'new wave' style. His works have frequently been compared to that of Goddard. His concerns are fairly abstract and at times are translated into actual characters in a difficult way. What human attributes are in Hartley characters are put there entirely by the actor/actress and rarely by the script and dialogue. About this time you should be wondering why the hell I'm talking about Hal Hartley. For my own purposes, I just like Hal Hartley and have surprised myself with the restrain I've shown so far. Though, if he sounds interesting to you, I'd suggest trying his films. Hartley's full length films are The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men, Surviving Desire, Amateur, and what may be released soon, Flirt.
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