Holden: Oh no, here’s the big test. Quick Stop.
Alyssa: My best friend fucked a dead guy in the bathroom.
Holden: You know that girl?
Alyssa: I did, before she was committed.
– Chasing Amy (1997)
Anyone who’s taken the time to watch any film written/directed by Kevin Smith can’t miss how the majority of the films are connected — the characters of one appearing in another, the narrative of one setting up the catalyst or connection to another. More than just setting them in the same portion of Red Bank, New Jersey, it establishes a world that feels lived in. But it’s not just the characters who live there, it’s the audience, too. Maybe for a short while through the runtime, perhaps longer if the film really grabs them. For filmmaker Sav Rodgers, Chasing Amy, Smith’s third film, literally saved his life as he dealt with bullying and homophobia as a young teen, a story he recounts in a December 2018 TED Talk. Through giving that talk, Rodgers was able to connect with Smith and other members of the Chasing Amy cast/crew, inspiring within the filmmaker a desire to chronicle what the film means to him. What ends up being captured is a daunting and often emotionally surprising confrontation between a piece of art as it exists through the lens of the audience versus the creator and the canvas.
For those not in the know, here’s the run-down on Chasing Amy (2017):
Comic book creator Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) meets fellow comic book creator Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a convention and the two become close friends. After spending quite a bit of time together, Holden confesses his feelings for Alyssa, which is a problem (at first) because Alyssa is gay. Except the two do start a relationship, which goes well, until Holden’s insecurities get the better of him.
This summary excludes a couple of facts that Sav’s documentary *does* explore: this is a gay rom-com told from a cishet white male perspective. That the relationship between the two characters is inspired partly by the friendship between Smith producing partner Scott Mosier (all of them) and actor Guinevere Turner (Chasing Amy/Dogma, but also Go Fish), as well as the relationship between Smith and Adams prior to and through shooting the film, doesn’t really defend the choices that Smith makes in the film (in dialogue or character action). They are authentic to Smith’s experience, but that doesn’t make them fully authentic to the LGBTQIA+ community. Recognizing that his films possess a complex history, films Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019) and Clerks III (2022) contain specific elements to call out and attempt to make amends for his mistakes. Though Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) does contain an easter egg for Amy fans, it’s Reboot that specifically contains a moment where the audience is given some closer on the Alyssa/Holden story that also seeks to redress/reframe the narrative in a more affirming light. Smith’s films are often juvenile, but it’s hard to deny that they possess a great deal of heart and rarely, if ever, do the films seek to put someone down, even if there’s a character being an outright bastard (Jason Lee’s Banky Edwards) in it.
What’s great about Rodgers’s documentary is that Chasing Chasing Amy explores all of the above by talking with several notable critics, writers, and artists, as well as Smith, Adams, Lee, Turner, and others involved with the making of the film. Given Rodgers’s very personal reason for loving the film, one may presume that the documentary as a whole would somehow shy away from or seek to avoid talking about the aspects of Amy that weren’t received well in the initial release and still aren’t held in high regard now, instead, when confronted by information that may skew his view, Rodgers heads straight for it. This is particularly important, not just because Rodgers is a filmmaker and is, in some regards, duty-bound to go where the story leads and not direct it to a fixed point, but because Chasing Chasing Amy is also about where Rodgers is in his life through the shooting of the doc. This means that in between the exploration of this film that saved his life and being confronted with aspects he’d never considered, he’s also sharing with us a pivotal moment in his own life. So while the film is very much an exploration into the cultural and personal impact of a film, in conjunction with the very real realizations and all the emotions that come with them, Chasing Chasing Amy transforms from a fan film into a tale of self-identification, reexamination, and reclamation.
It’s the personal aspects of the doc which ground the film and help transform it from a regular fan-led celebratory “we love you, Kevin Smith” doc into a narrative that’ll not only have you weeping, but have you be surprised that it does. It’s not just how open Rodgers becomes with us, trusting the audience to be welcoming as he introduces us to his then-girlfriend-now-wife Riley, showing us a significant portion of the eight-minute TED Talk, and inviting us to go to these significant places in the film. The recontextualization starts with Rodgers taking us to various places of note in the View Askewniverse (the fan name for Smith’s connected stories) as a fan would, only for them to take on a different meaning because Rodgers is there (either alone or with Riley). It takes some time for this to click, both for Rodgers and the audience, as the notion of art being subjective, while obvious, tends to get forgotten when we’re in the throes of things. For instance, Rodgers goes to the restaurant that Holden sits at in the scene for Smith’s big speech as Silent Bob. How does it feel to sit where Affleck sat? How does it feel to sit there with Riley? What does it mean to share that space with someone you love versus a fictional character who, through their own hubris and stupidity, lost the love of their life? Going further, how does it feel to sit there, hearing Smith’s dialogue run through your mind after you discover just how hard shooting this film was on Adams and how she, even now, has to remind people that she may be the face of Chasing Amy but it’s not her legacy, it’s Smith’s? What does it mean to Rodgers (what would it mean to any fan) to become communicative enough with your filmmaking idol to have their cell number and discover that, while he’s made peace with his past, it’s not so simple for others? There’s a surprising complexity to Chasing Chasing Amy, and watching Rodgers grapple with it in semi-real time will give any Smith fan pause. How could one not, especially in the gripping 1-1 with Adams herself which will cause any fan of the film, as well as cinema itself, come to a reckoning with truth versus the versions we created for ourselves.
On the surface, Chasing Chasing Amy can be seen as one fan’s coming to terms with the film they loved at 12 and how being an adult sometimes means putting those things in a box. Underneath that, however, is a story about queer cinema, the gay community, and the intersection of representation versus the voice used to bring that representation to the screen. Even without the parallel exploration of Rodgers’s own life and the crossroads he finds himself at, Chasing Chasing Amy grants a lot to chew on that even general audiences will appreciate. For the Smith fans, I hope that they set aside their own biases or preferences and allow a different perspective to take hold. It’s ok to love this film for what it is, but one also has to be able to parse out why the film means what it does, how it may change, and why that’s ok. Watching the doc means joining Rodgers on his journey to explore this film, which means you’re not going it alone. A feeling that Chasing Amy gave to a young Sav and that artists often give to audiences the world over every day.
Screening during Tribeca Film Festival 2023.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.