What we have here is a love story. Okay, so most love stories keep off discussing fisting, skirt round the subject of sex-related injuries and ignore the fact that both parties may have done "it" with others before they met. But from a film-maker who once based a scene on the merits of hermaphroditic pornography, this leftfield approach to the subject isn't all that unexpected.
The relationship thang is Kevin Smith's forte. Clerks, for all its post-modern banter, was to do with Dante screwing things up with both his girlfriend and his ex, while Mallrats was a slacker vision of wooing true love. Chasing Amy is a logical follow-on. Though the characters are older, the joke-count lower and more time is spent on emotional issues than on the minutiae of comic book character motivation or the rules of the arcade game Skee Ball, it's still a Smith movie, heart and soul.
But is the world ready for the growing up of Kevin Smith? Well, yes and no. On one hand, it's great to see a movie that captures your attention, not through a big budget, big stars or big special effects, but with a story and characters you genuinely care about. The acting is uniformly great, with relaxed, natural performances that don't appear in any way affected. Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams work impeccably well together in a tale that demands that they are on the screen for the lion's share of the running time. Ex-skateboarder and Mallrats star Jason Lee once again shows a talent for sarcastic comedic perfection that's been woefully overlooked by everyone else. This, along with Smith's own standoffish, invisible style of direction, makes you feel you're watching real people going through the most trying period of their lives.
But Smith's previous efforts leave you expecting certain things that Chasing Amy only really pays lip-service to. Granted, there's the Star Wars conversation, the comic book talk, and Jay and Silent Bob make a welcome appearance. But as with any love story, the action very rarely strays from the loving couple. Making the shift in expectation from Clerks to Amy takes some doing. The virtually laugh-free final third, though a well-reasoned conclusion to the tale, makes you realise why most test audiences always clamour for the happiest ending possible.
Chasing Amy shows us that, for all his continuing fascination with graphic novels and shock-jock affected bantering, Kevin Smith is growing up and moving on from the till-boy existence that inspired Clerks. Any reservations we have with this movie show that maybe we're not yet ready to leave all that oddness and Happy Scrappy Hero Pup nonsense behind.
Smart, funny and (if you've ever had a girlfriend with a hefty track record, and known about it) often far too close to the bone to be at all comfortable. Chasing Amy represents a change in direction for Smith, with drama before gags. A chick flick for blokes.