THE 20'S WE NEVER HAD BUT REMEMBER FONDLY: CHASING AMY, 1997
By Jessica Machado
I had remembered Chasing Amy to be, if anything, very loyal to its time—slacker-saddled 1997. I was prepared to cringe my way through Kevin Smith’s Gen-X “whatever, man” dialogue, Joey Lauren Adams’ objet du désir status and, most of all, Adams’ pep-squeaky voice. What I thought was smart and cutting edge sixteen years ago I expected to find forced and trite now. But I didn’t. I actually liked the whole goddamn movie. Even Adams kinda sexed me.
Don’t get me wrong; the back-and-forths between the characters are what you remember—dismissive, indie-dude speak—but it’s not annoying. Comebacks and one-liners aren’t overly clever like you get with Girls, probably the most modern counterpart to Smith’s early-twenties loveable losers, and the dialogue is at least a notch and a half above cliché. Jason Lee’s Banky is the film’s most likeable character, the grouchy reflector with the un-PC commentary for what we’re thinking everyone else is thinking or what needs to be said to push the story along. “It’s one thing to read about shit, it’s another thing to be forced to deal with it on a regular basis,” he warns his good ol’ bro Holden, who’s fallen for lesbian-tagged Alyssa. “When you’re walking along in the mall and both your heads turn at a really nice-looking chick, it’s gonna eat you up inside.” It’s also 100 percent believable that sappy, takes-himself-too-seriously Holden (Ben Affleck, who looks remarkably like current Ben Affleck only with pouffier hair)—and any arty type between the ages of sixteen and 25 who likes a self-possessed woman in a fishnet shirt—would fall for Adams’ character Alyssa. Alyssa is open and honest—even if she has to use her voice to convey that openness and honesty.
When the movie came out, it may’ve been one of the first sorta mainstream-ish films to blur the labels of straight and gay and talk frankly about lesbian sex without fetishizing it tooooo much. (My boyfriend’s response when I asked if he’d seen Chasing Amy: “Of course. Lesbians.”) And while that may be what it’s most remembered for and why my friends and I went to go see it at age nineteen, it also interested us because we were just starting to sense what a clusterbumble relationships and friendships can turn into—they weren’t just based on love, sex and loyalty; individual histories and issues play a gnarly hand, too. And yet, as brand-new adults from sheltered upbringings, my pals and I were novices in handling such dramas. Chasing Amy was a look into an urban world that was messy with graffiti-walled apartments and bars that played Cibo Matto and sex that involved multiple partners, things my friends and I, who were in college but still lived at home, were waiting to encounter. I remember two of my girlfriends kissing on a bet at a party and I thought, “This must be the beginning.”
The only thing I did find cringe-worthy as I re-watched Chasing Amy was remembering what an insecure nightmare I was in my own relationships in my twenties. We sure did care about our boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s sexual pasts back then, huh? It was, like, the most important thing we could never let go of. I remember keeping a mental list of any girl my boyfriend would casually mention and ranking them all not only chronologically, but how I assumed they stacked up to me sexually. Eck. If I was thrust back into the single world now, at 35, the only time I would think to ask a suitor the details of his sexual past was if I was trying to gauge what he was familiar with in bed, you know, for reference. Otherwise, we all have pasts, and the horror stories and ego romps are best saved for your buddies—and maybe a pointed blog post.
We also did a pretty swell job of overlooking the little crimson flags littering our love lives, didn’t we? The prophet Banky tells Holden, “This is going to end badly,” before it’s barely begun. Of course it is! Holden, honey, you confessed your love to a gay, sexually adventurous woman who thrives off your attention and who surely thought, “Eh, why not try this out?” It is not happily ever after. I once, after dating a guy for years and wondering why our relationship never felt deep enough, reopened my journal and there, after date one, I’d written, “He’s a good guy, but he’s emotionally retarded.” Like Banky, I knew the un-PC facts the first time I hung out with the dude, and still I continued on, hoping things would get better. Change: We believed in it so fiercely in our youth.
Which brings me to the proposal. I won’t spoil it for you, just in case you forgot, but it is as unbearable to watch as you remember. We had some dumb ideas in our twenties, ways we thought we could remake ourselves and the natural order of our emotions, and that proposal is no exception. But we had to try, so we could create what we hope to better use in our thirties—boundaries.
Jessica Machado is an assistant editor at Rolling Stone and author of the blog "Baggage Claimed" (baggageclaimed.tumblr.com). Her work has appeared in Bust, The Awl and The Economist’s More Intelligent Life, among other publications.