The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - CHASING CHASING AMY | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2023 Review - CHASING CHASING AMY

Chasing Chasing Amy review
A young filmmaker examines his complicated relationship with a Kevin Smith film.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Sav Rodgers

Featuring: Kevin Smith, Guinevere Turner, Joey Lauren Adams, Scott Mosier, Sav Rodgers, Andrew Ahn, Kevin Willmott

Chasing Chasing Amy poster

It's always embarrassing looking back. Finding an old CD in your attic of a band that you'd never knowingly listen to now, someone reminding you of a mad opinion you held way back when, bygone diaries which focus obsessively on people you can barely remember today: what were you like, eh? I'm here to say, embrace the awkwardness! The discomfort means that life has moved on, and you along with it: "growth," as they say. Kevin Smith gets it. In the opening of Chasing Chasing Amy, Sav Rodgers' fan documentary about the phenomena of said '90s indie flick, he has the genuine grace to remark in wonder that the documentarian is still "saying good things about Chasing Amy in 2020"-!

Like Wu-Tang, Movie Waffler is for the kids, so here's a quick primer/reminder. 1997's Chasing Amy was the third film by indie-filmmaker Kevin Smith, a romantic comedy with sociological ambitions which was seen as a return to form following Smith's disastrous second film (and let's not forget that debut Clerks was incendiary - I mean, not as an evergreen film, nobody could sit through it now, but as a triumph of creativity, determination and showing what could be done if you were hard working and focussed and wanted it enough). It focused on Ben Affleck being in a relationship with an ostensibly sort-of-gay woman whose sexual history turns out to surpass his, and he gets angry about it. Controversial at the time and since for its supposedly cavalier LGBTQ+ portrayals, FWIW this is my take on the film: I still find it an uncomfortable watch, but for the right reasons, i.e., its unflinching portrayal of cringe inducingly recognisable male insecurity and entitlement, which the film criticises. Yes, Chasing Amy is clumsy, but not hateful, and as adults we should perhaps understand that representation is not always endorsement or intended as a universal statement. Today, where we have lots of gay characters whose sexuality is incidental and not a driving aspect of the plot (like Jasmin Savoy Brown in the new Screams, a franchise which Kevin Smith once starred in, say), it's easy to forget how rare the portrayals in Chasing Amy, of gay characters that are relatively detailed and sympathetic, must have been.

Chasing Chasing Amy review

It was certainly a big deal for Rodgers, who, as a child Ben Affleck fanatic (!), happened upon a VHS of said film. An adolescent coming to terms with their sexuality, for Rodgers the film was both a revelation and a balm (and further proof that when all is said and done the film probably did more good than harm). Chasing Amy had such an effect on Rodgers that he went and made a stirring Ted Talk about the film. Smith himself, God bless him, reached out to Rodgers (as did Affleck, fair play), a contact which set in motion this documentary, which extends the Ted Talk into an exploration of the film and also, mainly, explores the lasting impression it had on the Generation Z Rodgers.

The access Rodgers achieves is impressive. Chiefly, there is Smith himself, who as ever comes across as an earnest, sentimental and cuddly old stoner (I like him, so what) full of love and encouragement for fans. Chipping in are film critics (my invite got lost in post, etc), other filmmakers, and stars of the film. Sadly, no Affleck (whose star persona of privileged, strong jawed basic bros, often knowingly portrayed like in Gone Girl or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was cemented in Chasing Amy and it would have been interesting to hear his take), but we do get Joey Lauren Adams (and how!).

More contentious analyses of Chasing Amy are led by Guinevere Turner, writer/star of Go Fish, an objectively better film than the similarly humble and monochrome Clerks (serendipitously, I mentioned Go Fish the other week in my Fremont review: consistency). Go Fish and Clerks were on the same festival circuit, and the young filmmakers behind both breakout films bonded and hung out, with Smith, it is implied, developing a curiosity about Turner's sexuality and Clerks producer Scott Mosier's crush on her: the scene in Chasing Amy about how to define lesbian sex is, according to Turner, a previous conversation lifted verbatim from this era. The disputation, which reviews from 1997 openly accuse the film of, is that the film plays to the "straight white community" and packages LGBTQ+ characters for that audience, a defining aspect of the film not helped by the manner in which Alyssa helplessly denounces her God given gayness for straight bloke Holden.

Chasing Chasing Amy review

Is it worth getting het up about the out-of-date ideologies of a film from over a quarter of a century ago? Perhaps not. And so, in order to lend weight to the film, the documentary is correlated with Rodgers' decision to come out as trans, and the ongoing relationship with his girlfriend. A side note: it's not for me to stereotype, but in firm opposition to the Helen Joyce vile school of transphobia, it seems clear to me that Rodgers, a female to male transexual, was obviously male all along. He obsesses over minutiae of pop culture specific to him, he forces his interests and totem texts onto his partner and, most tellingly, to him all of this Really Matters. This is what men do. Mind you, not all of us make documentaries about it, but we are prone to posting rambling social media diatribes/film reviews. Sav just goes that bit further.

I'm all for young love and people getting together, but, and apologies, when all is said and done it is quite the quotidian phenomenon and not necessarily the stuff of feature documentaries. Could this be a generational fashion, a Gen Z urge to record and broadcast something just because it is happening to them? It's sweet and lovely, but, yeah, so what? (Perhaps it is a bit coercive, too, that Rodgers asks his partner, an absolute darling, to marry him on camera. So intimate...). More interesting is Rodgers coming out and, as the film is put together over the succeeding months, his developing transition. Inspiringly, Rodgers' transition is presented as uncomplicated, in the sense that people are universally accepting, and Rodgers is excited at the process and visibly happier and more comfortable in himself at the end of the film. And it's all thanks to Kevin Smith and his muddled attempts to forge a constructed narrative out of Joey Lauren Adams' intimidating sexual history (not really, but I suppose the association implies a causality). Good for him.

The most interesting aspect of Chasing Chasing Amy however, and the reason I recommend this film, is the presence of the astounding Joey Laurence Adams. What a woman. We first meet her in a joint interview with Smith, with the filmmaker being cutely apologetic for the manner in which Alyssa is constructed (he is open about the film essentially being a treatise on the then romantic relationship between him and Adams), where Adams smiles along gamely but with a definite reluctance in her body language. Because the imperial Miramax era will forever be tainted by its association with the studio head, a convicted rapist and repudious emblem of the time's patriarchal toxicity, which bro-centric films like Chasing Amy were, like it or lump it, a product of...

Chasing Chasing Amy review

And thus, when she is interviewed herself, Joey Lauren Adams goes IN on Chasing Amy, in on Kevin Smith, in on the film industry and, yikes, even in on little Sav himself. She questions why he is so hung up on the film, why he even wants to talk to her, and articulates a "weird energy exchange" between them. It is devastating and also a blunt meta-veto of fan fixation. It's a little unfair to the kid, really, but it is utterly riveting in the same way that violence is (when Adams asks what Sav wants from her he heartbreakingly replies, "I dunno, perhaps we can be friends"). Adams broadens her invective towards the industry which treated her like a "piece of meat" and a "whore." It is an invigoratingly discomfiting revelation of the real-life sexual exploitation occurring beyond the risqué confines of Smith's films and neither the documentary nor the documentarian quite recovers from it.

Context is everything, and it is impossible to imagine Chasing Amy "as is" made today. It is a film made then, in direct opposition to Chasing Chasing Amy which is, with a genesis dependent upon social and viral media and its involuntary examination of the sort of fan culture which Kevin Smith films catalysed, a film that could only be made now. Watching the documentary with its throw-back clips to the '90s, it is bittersweet to see Smith, initially an iconoclastic independent filmmaker, with his career now so dependent on nostalgia and regurgitating various reiterations of those earlier films (the last one I saw featured someone having sex with a donkey, so I'm unsure if the subsequent entries into the canon have the same social relevance as Chasing Amy. Update - I texted a mate of mine who is a fan, and he says that Smith's He-Man Netflix show has a progressive ideology - thanks Adam). Is it possible that a director newly minted would still inspire such a fervent fan following? To misquote a song from that era featuring yet another sex abuser: my heart hopes so, but my mind is telling me no. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of Chasing Chasing Amy is how the documentary itself is a hark back to a time when films and filmmakers were seen as special and exciting, a time when movies did actually matter to people.

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