Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy (1997)
Criterion Collection
Cast: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell
Extras: Audio Commentary, Video Trailer, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes

As most visitors to are DVD collectors and film fans, I can safely assume that everyone has had at least one DVD release that they just couldn’t wait for — either because it was a favorite film or because they wanted to see the film in all of its <$PS, widescreen>/surround sound glory. But, have you ever been dying to get your hands on a DVD not just for the film itself, but for the bonus features as well? This is the case with "Chasing Amy", which has just hit DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection and Buena Vista Home Video. While I love the movie "Chasing Amy", I love the hilarious <$commentary,audio commentary> even more, and I couldn’t wait for this flick to hit DVD, so that many more people could experience the antics of Kevin Smith and crew.

"Chasing Amy" is the third chapter in writer/director Kevin Smith’s "New Jersey Trilogy", which also includes "Clerks" and "Mallrats". While "Clerks" and "Mallrats" occur one day apart, "Chasing Amy" takes place two years later, and introduces a whole new group of characters. The film focuses on Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). This duo is responsible for the best-selling comic-book "Bluntman and Chronic", which has become so popular that MTV has offered to do an animated series (look quickly for Matt Damon as one of the MTV execs). The pair have been friends for years and it looks as if their partnership is about to make them very rich.

At a comic-book convention (which is staged very convincingly), Holden is introduced to Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) by another artist, Hooper X (Dwight Ewell). Holden immediately becomes smitten with Alyssa and is very excited when she invites him to a club in New York. Unfortunately, it is at the club that Holden learns that Alyssa is a lesbian. Unable to control his attraction to Alyssa, Holden pursues a friendship with her and the two become buddies. In the mean time, Banky feels that Holden isn’t paying enough attention to the business side of "Bluntman and Chronic" and can’t understand why Holden is pursuing a woman that he can obviously never have. As the tension mounts between the three players, Holden is forced to choose between his business, his friend, and the woman that he thinks he loves.

For those of you who haven’t already seen "Chasing Amy", reviewing this film will be very easy for me. It’s a great movie, see it! That was simple enough. Seriously, "Chasing Amy" is a wonderful movie that is practically flawless. Writer/director Kevin Smith continues to prove that he is one of the best dialogue writers working today. Whether it’s the witty repartee between Holden and Banky or Holden’s passionate speech to Alyssa or Hooper X’s tirade on the racism in "Star Wars" (which must be heard to be believed. I almost fell out of my seat in the theatre!), the words that Smith writes ring very true and sound like the things that real people would say. But beware, "Chasing Amy" is full of very frank language that addresses sexuality. However, none of it is gratuitous. (To paraphrase Eddie Murphy, "Nobody would pay to see a curse show!") Once again, the language is very real, and in most cases, brutally honest. There is a scene in which Alyssa and Banky discuss their sexual misadventures (which is based on the "scar comparison" scene in "Jaws") which is full of some of the bluest language ever put into a motion picture, but it all rings very true.

Along with all of this honest dialogue, comes some very honest emotions as well. The story which is portrayed in "Chasing Amy" is not your typical Hollywood fare such as the awful "Three to Tango." Holden loves Alyssa, but Alyssa is gay. There’s no easy answer here. These are adults who have real feelings and must learn to work through them. Also, the relationship between Holden and Banky is realistically portrayed as well. (Smith has a gift for portraying male friendships which come across as very real, see "Clerks" and "Mallrats" for further examples.) While Banky and Holden may constantly rib one another, it’s obvious that Banky truly cares for Holden and is very worried that Alyssa is going to hurt him. "Chasing Amy" is a powerful film which doesn’t pull any punches. I guarantee that there will be a lump in your throat at the end.

Aside from Kevin Smith’s talents, the talented cast makes "Chasing Amy" shine. Ben Affleck is outstanding in his performance as Holden. Up until this point, I’d only seen Affleck in "Mallrats", where he played a bully, so I was very surprised by his turn in "Chasing Amy." Here, Affleck proves that he really can act, being very funny and very serious as well. This role requires Affleck to show every emotion and he does so with style and ease. Also, he proves that he can handle Smith’s dialogue, which is no small feat. Having loved Jason Lee in "Mallrats", I wasn’t as surprised by his performance in "Chasing Amy", as he’s as funny as ever. However, I was surprised by the talent that Lee displayed during the more dramatic moments. Let’s face it, you don’t expect great acting from a professional skateboarder, but Lee delivers. Despite her annoying voice, Joey Lauren Adams (who was Smith’s girlfriend at the time) is very good as Alyssa. She brings an energy to the film that helps to offset the cynicism of Holden and Banky. But it’s Dwight Ewell as Hooper X who steals the show. In addition to his rant on "Jedi", Hooper has a scene in a record store which is both insightful and hilarious. And, of course, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, respectively) make a cameo in the film and they achieve the comedy pinnacle of "Chasing Amy."

The Criterion Collection’s DVD presentation of "Chasing Amy" has its ups and downs. To review the DVD, I did a side by side comparison with the Criterion laserdisc of "Chasing Amy". The DVD version presents the film in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. In the video department, the DVD is clearly superior to the laserdisc, although the image quality still is not what viewers would have hoped for given DVD’s capabilities. The image is very grainy throughout and edge-enhancement has been applied to the image, resulting in noticeably ringing artifacts. In comparison it is far better than the laserdisc image however, which is somewhat fuzzy and there is some bleeding of the colors. The colors on the DVD version look very bright and true and there is no saturation whatsoever. The laserdisc image appears darker, while the DVD is brighter (but not too bright), showing the lighting scheme that cinematographer David Klein had in mind while shooting the film. Given the fact that there are no compression artifacts visible in the presentation, the DVD image is clearly an upgrade to the laserdisc version.

However, there is no clear winner in the audio department. The Dolby tracks on the laserdisc are somewhat muted and it can be hard at times to understand what the characters are saying. It’s obvious that there was an attempt to correct this with the DVD version of "Chasing Amy", but they went too far. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio mix isn’t very well balanced, with the dialogue emanating far too loudly from the center channel. It was almost like Ben Affleck was in the room, yelling at me, giving the film the sound quality of a movie that has been dubbed. Some adjustments to the volume level of my center channel speaker fixed this problem, but I’ve never encountered this kind of situation on any other DVD. Aside from the shouting, the surround sound is well balanced and the music and dialogue are nicely mixed.

As for the extras on the DVD, the highlight is the aforementioned running commentary, which features writer/director Kevin Smith, actor Ben Affleck, actor Jason Mewes, producer Scott Mosier, associate producer Rober Hawk, Miramax executive Jon Gordon, and historian Vincent Pereira. Having already heard the commentary to "Clerks", I knew that Kevin Smith was a funny guy, but I assumed that Ben Aflleck would be more serious. Boy, was I wrong! Affleck is hysterical and he and Smith play off of each other very well. While the other participants in the commentary contribute several thoughts (with Mewes sounding very strange, as usual), it’s Smith and Affleck who carry the bulk of the commentary, constantly baiting one another. Trust me, this commentary is worth the price of the DVD alone, and at times, it’s funnier than the movie. After you hear it, you’ll be using terms like "J.V. clothing" without even realizing it. Aside from all of the jokes ("Who? Nobody asks you that?!" "I put on clinics and my clinics are free!"), the commentary gives a lot of insight into the making of the film and even points out some faux pas’ (such as when the camera is visible in windows). I’m very glad that the second funniest commentary ever (the funniest being "Evil Dead 2", which you’ll get to experience very soon) has made it to DVD. Incidentally, Kevin Smith made a disparaging about DVDs on the laserdisc commentary, so he does a special intro to the commentary on the DVD to talk about his current feelings about DVDs.

Another great highlight on the DVD are the deleted scenes. There are ten deleted scenes in all, and, as usual, they vary in the quality of the material. The highlight here is that the scenes are introduced by Smith, Affleck, Mewes, and Mosier. Once again, we are given the opportunity to see Smith and Affleck at work together and you’ll be floored by Affleck’s impression of Charlie Sheen. The real standout here is the scene which was to have been the opening of the film. Not only is the scene funny, but it includes "Tell ’em, Steve-Dave", which was unfortunately cut from the finished film. There are also a series of outtakes, showing the actors flubbing their lines. Strangely, the trailer on the DVD is different from the trailer on the laserdisc. The trailer on the laserdisc was the actual theatrical trailer and included an intro by Smith. The trailer on the DVD is a home video preview and has no intro. For some reason, Buena Vista has a habit of using home video trailers instead of theatrical trailers. The DVD booklet contains a message from Kevin Smith and a very entertaining and useful guide to the characters in the "New Jersey Trilogy".

Surprisingly, the "Chasing Amy" DVD has quite some technical problems, which is surprising given Criterion’s stature in the industry. The video transfer is okay, although fortunately free of compression artifacts, and the audio is exhibiting some problems – but at least it contains some nice extras. As if the movie alone weren’t enough reason to snatch up this DVD, the hilarious <$commentary,audio commentary> definitely makes "Chasing Amy" a must have. "Chasing Amy" is very funny and very moving — the movie will have you doubling over with laughter while at the same time, making you think about the true meaning of love.

Oh no, I forgot to give a shout out to my peeps!