In 1997, Kevin Smith released the third installment in his Jersey Trilogy, which had begun with Clerks and Mallrats and had cemented his voice, love it or hate it, as one of the defining directorial voices of the decade. Chasing Amy was many things. It was a love letter to his ex-partner Joey Lauren Adams; it was Smith's entry into the conversation started by the New Queer Cinema movement of the 90s, partly based on a scene in the seminal lesbian movie Go Fish; and it was also his most emotionally literate film, a musing on sexuality and femininity seen through the eyes of two straight guy best friends. I remember watching it as a young teen, and announcing to an older girl who had been my babysitter that I was bisexual.
"You're not bisexual," she had said, laughing, "You just think it's cool."
Well, babysitter friend, that was actually very bigoted opinion that you shared with fundamentalist Christians and people from small towns in the 60s. However, she was not entirely wrong. My "bisexuality" took the form of a snog with Emily Brown at Harriet Pounds' birthday party. Lasting much longer was my obsession (still ongoing!) with Joey Lauren Adams, which began the day she sat on a swing next to Ben Affleck, and gave an entire generation of film fans a visual understanding of exactly what it means to be fisted.
There's no other way of writing that. Sorry.
Before Chasing Amy, most of what I thought I knew about sex came from the episode of "Friends" where Ross rolls over the juice box on a date with Rachel. That hand movement was a watershed, daring and meaningful in a way that Smith's previous films, whilst containing scenes where someone accidentally fucks a dead guy or Ben Affleck tries to trick Shannon Doherty into sex in a very uncomfortable (no-not-the-back-of-a-volkswagon) place, were too ludicrous to imagine actually happening. Though Chasing Amy couldn't actually change my sexuality, it alerted me to the possibility of exploring it, freely, as a girl. And while there are plenty of critics who found the premise too simple, Chasing Amy was an entry point for teens like me, who were only just beginning to get into independent movies via Smith, and who would have then delved into further watching—from Boys Don't Cry to Kissing Jessica Stein to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—while also wondering how much these films applied to our own lives.
Today there are people who can vote who are too young to have seen Chasing Amy first time round, but it is still totally relevant, not least in terms of fashion, where it has recently become BANG on-trend due to being the most normcore movie of all time. If you take out the gender politics and scenes where someone is squeezing out a single tear, this film is a just an excuse for Affleck to roll out one mediocre sweater after another, in between a parade of plaid shirts in men's medium, their patterns in various clashing shades from a spectrum that runs from 'rust' to 'khaki migraine'.
THIS IS NORMCORE
It's possible that the entire film was put together just for this cameo from Matt Damon to set up his career as Hollywood's favorite normal person. Here he is rocking an impressively anonymous getup that would make George Costanza proud. That leather watch-strap is just.
Affleck was not the only person to overuse plaid in Chasing Amy. Some form of tartan is abused in almost every single scene in the film, be it on a lead actor, an extra, a drummer or a cushion. God forbid a piece of plaid material should be in shot without some opposing, eye-destroying collection of square colours in close proximity.
Other style themes in the film include the use of cigarettes as an accessory, sassy t-shirt slogans, and Joey Lauren Adams' general use of black in a variety of cute ways.
While Ben Affleck rocks every shade of beige imaginable, the lesbians in Chasing Amy are recognizable by their love of denim, cotton, and bobs. I particularly like Alyssa's slick-looking girlfriend at the Meow Mix, who wears one of those fun baby doll tees that made Lauren Laverne look amazing, and me look like a little fat boy with moobs.
This is Guinevere Turner, the director of Go Fish who would later go on to create "The L Word."
Fittingly for the normcore feast that is Chasing Amy, its music supervisor, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, was one of the leading contributors to the 90s trend for average guitar music. Presumably while wearing a pair of slacks and some kind of short sleeved shirt, Pirner put together a pleasantly bland soundtrack of alt-bands who have today faded into corduroy-clad obscurity. Though it sadly never made it to release, Chasing Amy's soundtrack is a museum-quality archive of lite-grunge, taking in the strangley-voiced joys of Jump Starts, Coal, Sponge, and a young Liz Phair. This being right in the middle of the 90s, there is also a couple of anonymous breakbeat tracks that sound like stock music from a fashion show, and Faithless' Insomniac minus the words, words obviously having been deemed too spicy. Notably, this soundtrack features the 90s teen movie staple "The Impression That I Get" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a song that is super terrible but was in Clueless so um, I love it.
Petra Haden of the Decemberists contributes an arrangement of a Bach minuet which accompanies the scene where Holden declares his love in the rain. Let it be known that this piece is about two minutes long—the approximate time it takes to give up your entire identity and get back into boys.
Shout out to Dwight Ewell as Hooper X, who provides a touch of new wave to the wardrobe palette, and whose faux black power speech in a CD shop means the soundtrack gets an injection of Public Enemy's
"Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man." Shout out to CD shops.
The film ends a year later, and the passage of time is shown by Jason Lee's new statement hat...
... and this giant perm.
I only realized Ben Affleck had a goatee in this shot at the end.
If you love her like I do, you can trace Joey Lauren Adams' career in this funny or die video:
Thanks for everything, Alyssa.
Emma-Lee Moss is a British musician living in LA who records music under the name Emmy The Great. She's on Twitter - @emmy_the_great.
Want more of The Score?