Sunday 11 August 2013

Chasing Amy (1997)

I hadn’t seen Chasing Amy before, but I’ve been recommended it countless times, and it comes up in almost every search for bisexuality and film that I’ve done, so I felt like I’d better cover it. If I’m completely honest, it was probably Ben Affleck that was putting me off seeing the film for such a long time, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. 

Director: Kevin Smith

Stars: Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Joey Lauren Adams

Language: English

Length: 133min

Ratings: UK 18, USA 18 (I would imagine this is for swearing and descriptions of sex – there aren’t any graphic sex scenes in the movie)

Bisexual Characters:  Alyssa Jones

Description: Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) is part of a successful comic book writing duo with his best friend Banky (Jason lee). His world is turned upside down when he meets Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), also a comic book writer who is his perfect woman in every way – except for the fact that she only dates women. The pair forms a close friendship, which eventually becomes a sexual relationship, and he is perfectly happy until Holden discovers a few things about Alyssa’s past which he doesn’t know how to handle.

Overall Thoughts

As I said, this film was a pleasant surprise. I’m aware that it is (loosely) part of a series by the director which includes Clerks, Mallrats and Dogma so there are in-jokes and aspects of that ‘universe’ crossing over into this movie – however, I hadn’t seen any of those films (I think I will now, though!) and it stood up by itself no problem. It might help to have a cursory knowledge of who Jay and Silent Bob are, though.

Though this film was funny and came from a very liberal attitude, I’d put a warning in there for homophobic language, which is fairly constant throughout the film. It’s grating at first, but I was so pleased to see that at one point a character actually challenges the use of these words, and actually throughout the movie ignorant and homophobic attitudes are consistently dealt with and subverted in a patient but firm manner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie do that in a non-patronising way before, which was awesome.

Presentation of Bisexuality (spoilers)

My biggest fear coming into this film was (based on brief descriptions I’d read) that it would be about a straight guy who falls in love with a lesbian and manages to ‘turn’ her. Actually it was a lot more complicated than that, and a lot more thought provoking.

From a purely bisexual point of view, I have never related to any character in a film as much as I do Alyssa. She initially states (and demonstrates) that she is a lesbian, and is extremely confused/frustrated/hesitant about her feelings for Holden, because her attraction to him throws her whole world into upheaval. I think this is definitely something many bisexuals go through – I know that I personally identified as a lesbian when I was younger largely because I didn’t want to confuse anybody or cause confrontation by having to explain the entire ins and outs of my sexuality. I remember feeling embarrassed and almost ashamed about my attraction to the opposite sex at times, and it’s wonderful to see those feelings reflected here. I am completely in love with the explanation she gives for eventually allowing herself to be with Holden:

I'm not with you because of what family, society, life tried to instil in me from day one. The way the world is, how seldom it is that you meet that one person who just gets you - it's so rare… to cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately halve your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender, that just seemed stupid to me. So I didn't. But then you came along. You, the one least likely. I mean, you were a guy.
And while I was falling for you I put a ceiling on that, because you were a guy. Until I remembered why I opened the door to women in the first place: to not limit the likelihood of finding that one person who'd compliment me so completely. So here we are. I was thorough when I looked for you. And I feel justified lying in your arms, 'cause I got here on my own terms, and I have no question there was some place I didn't look. And for me that makes all the difference.

Alyssa is a pretty cool chick all round; from a feminist angle, she is confident in her sexuality and refuses to apologise for her promiscuous past, even when her partner tries to make her feel guilty. She does make mistakes, she isn’t perfect, but she does everything on her own terms.

Perhaps because of the director’s previous work, Chasing Amy seems to have a mostly male, heterosexual audience, and the story is told from the perspective of a white, heterosexual man – the crux of the story being his inability to handle his girlfriend’s sexually adventurous past. This is definitely something faced by the bisexual community when they approach new relationships. Same sex partners may worry you will ‘turn back’, opposite sex partners may (in my experience) worry that they are not sexually exciting or fulfilling enough.

In Conclusion…

While this movie wasn’t at all PC or a perfect example of a sex positive movie, it was better than most, as well as being funny, warm, well written and well-acted.  

Favourite line:

Maybe you knew early on that your track was from point A to B, but unlike you I was not given a fucking map at birth, so I tried it all!

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