"Chasing Chasing Amy" Shows the Power of Pop Culture on Queer Lives
Filming a love letter to your favorite movie isn't easy
This piece is part of the Tribeca 2023 coverage here on “I Care About..” //
Some spoilers ahead!
“It’s not the movie I set out to make but it’s the movie we have.”
Sav Rodger’s arrives at this realization in the waning final minutes of Chasing Chasing Amy, a documentary he made after a TEDtalk titled The Rom-Com That Saved My Life went viral and caught the attention of thousands. Rodgers has set out to make a love-letter-as-documentary on the movie he credits with saving his life, the 1997 Kevin Smith film Chasing Amy, a film starring Joey Lauren Adams as a lesbian woman named Alyssa Jones who finds love with a man, and how that all falls apart when he learns truths he is unable to fairly process.
“Sometimes, something that’s problematic can still mean a lot in your development” says writer and YouTuber Princess Weekes (who wrote about Chasing Amy in the Mary Sue in 2018). Chasing Chasing Amy swiftly becomes a movie asking questions of itself more than it does the subjects that populate the talking head portions of the film. The culture writers and film industry veterans invited in to talk about Chasing Amy, its impact and legacy as a mainstream movie that was critically lauded for placing a queer character at the center of the film and rightfully criticized for its homophobic tropes and hetero lens on queer storytelling and the attention afforded its straight male creator that was never granted to queer cinema of the 90s.
Guinevere Turner who co-wrote and directed Go Fish, an explicitly queer black-and-white film released in 1994 alongside Smith’s own debut Clerks, is a regular voice in Chasing Chasing Amy. Turner, friends with Smith and his producing partner Scott Mosier, is partly the inspiration behind Alyssa Jones. Adams – who was in a relationship with Smith at the time the film was made and informs much of the dialogue as well – plays the lesbian that gave Rodgers the strength to name his own queerness.
Rodgers is the throughline here, sweet and endearing as he wanders throughout the backdrops and memories of a movie he says saved his life. Always in a uniform of a backwards hat and denim jacket adorned with patches and queer affirmations. He goes to the Quick Stop and the record store where Affleck’s Holden Mcneil browses for CDs with the film's other queer character, a Black gay man played by Dwight Ewell named Hooper – whose public persona is Hooper X, a militant Black comic creator denouncing Star Wars as a racist movie at the outset of Chasing Amy, an identity as a mask developed to sell comics due to his real identity as an openly gay man – While some footage of Hooper is shown and his character briefly spoken about, Ewell is noticeably absent from the documentary.
Rodgers explores these dioramas of beloved memories as backdrops for photo shoots and recreations. He believes, as the audience does alongside him, that he is simply relishing in the opportunity to explore a movie that saved him. It’s sweet but flashy. Over and gone without much thought or conversation.
When Rodgers first meets Smith at his Hollywood home, as the two embrace in a hug so real you can feel it through the screen, the film could just as easily fade to black and leave as a short and inspired love story to a film that meant so much to someone so in need of a world to find themselves in. But this is only the beginning.
Smith quickly becomes the focus, as many of the talking heads leave the spotlight aside from Guinevere Turner, who in an inspired moment of exposition explains how Chasing Amy’s confounding depiction of fisting should have signaled that the film was never written from a place of lived experience.
Smith is the creator of all that has led Rodgers here, and is the one sitting in the chair when Rodgers pauses and asks to cut. In a scene we do not witness, Rodgers tells Smith that he is a trans man but has been struggling to make that information known. We don’t witness this exchange, it floats into frame as simple text over an abandoned leather chair placed in front of a yellow backdrop.
I knew this was coming but was sweetly surprised all the same. How much would we love to tell the person who created the world that saved us how much he helped form our bones. It’s a rare and tender beauty that has built this bridge between these two, and Rodgers now only has to tell the other person at the heart of this story what this has all meant.
Rodgers' earnest and eager desire to give back to Smith and Adams so much of what has been gifted to him results in a brief interview with the two, and for a second I imagine that this is how the rest of the documentary will shake out - sweet and affirming. Heartfelt.
The day after, Rodgers interviews Adams one on one at her home.
“I don’t know what it is you want from me.” Adams asks pointedly of Rodgers after a bit of playful banter about the history of the film and the project to catalog and convey Rodgers’ deep and abiding love of it. Rodgers is here with his heart so firmly in hand, unprepared for it to be crushed.
There is much of Adams' speech here that I don’t want to sully with cuts and prose. It is rare to hear an actor give an honest shake to the roots of their career, talking at length about the abuse in power at the heart of the film industry as she highlights the way men preyed at and tormented her. We cut to her crafting perfect laughs and measured smiles on red carpets and backstage interviews, Jay Leno and Dana Carvey make creeping comments at her on a television appearance and she laughs and looks away carefully from them both.
More than anyone Rodgers has put in front of a camera, Adams is wondering why she is here at all. Not out of malice or exasperation, but out of wonder for where Rodgers has placed so much of his idolation.
“Whatever moved you is Kevin’s truth, it wasn’t [mine]. It’s weird for a stranger to put that on you, there’s a weird energy exchange, you’re looking to me for something that I can't give you.” Adams says tenderly and carefully to Rodgers, who is here hoping to get into a topic Adams is less interested in revisiting. She describes the time period, “it wasn’t fun, it was painful,” with stark honesty and explains how hard it was to be in love with a man who wrote a movie just self-aware enough to know that he had frequently hurt her in their time as a couple. Who often made her feel like shit and then wrote it into a script as an apology.
“Now there’s this neat little movie where everything gets tied up in the end because he gives a speech in a diner.”
In all the talk of savior, it is after all Alyssa Jones who gave Rodgers what he needed to unlock his own queerness, it never dawned on him that Alyssa Jones was never real. A Lesbian written by a straight man unaware of the lasting hurt that befell the women he loved in a world he never had to experience the same as they did.
Rodgers goes home shortly after this conversation and dislodges the heart he thought he carried with this film, taking time off to think on what he is really seeking to find. He gets married to his wife Riley, who appears regularly in the film as another savior of Rodgers. The need to feel saved by anything other than his own fortitude an aspect of the film that warrants deeper exploration. Rodgers tells Riley that she saved him, like Chasing Amy before her.
It’s some time before Rodgers talks to Smith again and when he does, it is over zoom, with a voice that has changed its timbre but not its sweet and earnest nature and they talk more as peers and friends now, each thanking the other for saving them in some way once more.
Chasing Chasing Amy does something heartfelt; it avoids the pedestal it would be so easy to place Chasing Amy on and is instead willing to place it under a microscope. More than a love letter, this is a story about what it means to go in search of the truth and the strength it takes to give yourself honestly to all the answers you might not be ready to hear. That we all might be made stronger by not just the things that we love, but by the hard conversations about the ways that they hurt.
Support & Subscribe <3