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Tribeca 2023: Chasing Chasing Amy’s Queer Media Reckoning

Photo credit: Bill Winters, courtesy of Sicily Publicity.

No one is more open to acknowledge that Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy is a problematic queer movie than filmmaker Sav Rodgers. It’s easy to see why — as John Oliver puts it in a talk show clip that Rodgers includes in the opening montage of his documentary, Chasing Chasing Amy, one of the most offensive things about the film is that it suggests even the possibility of a lesbian turning straight if she finds the right man, but it’s even more so in hindsight when you realize that said man could be Ben Affleck. But for Rodgers, his relationship with the film is not one of critical analysis, but rather of profound reverence.

As he explains in a TED talk from 2019, before his coming out as a trans man, titled “The Rom-Com That Saved My Life,” Chasing Amy was his cinematic refuge in a childhood plagued by homophobia and rampant bigotry, so much so that he confesses in the talk to keeping the DVD of the film in his player for a month straight in order to watch it daily. Now having become a filmmaker himself, Rodgers mentions at the end of the talk that he’s now going to dedicate himself to making a documentary about the film’s legacy as a dedicated means of saying “thank you” — and the final product of his efforts proceeds to unfold.

Chasing Chasing Amy is the end result of Rodgers’s attempt to reckon with the lasting legacy of the film alongside the life-saving impact it left behind on him, and the first thing to know about it is that it’s a film whose wide-ranging content could not have been possible without the virality achieved by Rodgers’s TED Talk. Having drawn attention from figures like Brie Larson and, of course, Ben Affleck, not long after the video’s publication, it wasn’t long until Rodgers got the attention of Kevin Smith himself, and the appearances he — as well as the other actors and filmmakers involved in Chasing Amy —make in this documentary are essential to informing on the context of how Chasing Amy ultimately came about, and how they view the changing shape of the discussions surrounding it and the varying reactions to it.

That changing shape is a complicated subject in and of itself; as the documentary uses a variety of talking-head interviews from a nearly all-encompassing range of qualified cinematic voices to delve deep into its subject matter over the course of its runtime, it grows to acknowledge that Chasing Amy is beyond labeling as just “problematic.” Many acknowledge that the film seems to have come from an earnest emotional place, and that, for all Kevin Smith can do to represent the queer community as a cis/hetero man, pivotal characters like Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams, who also appears in an interview for this documentary) are still able to offer terminology to experiences that have historically gone unsaid.

One of the most pivotal narrative threads of Chasing Chasing Amy is that of Rodgers’s wife, Riley, whose relationship with Rodgers is charted from girlfriend to fiancée to spouse over the course of the documentary’s runtime; a queer relationship founded off of sincere mutual attraction and communal solace over their unique places in the world, which eventually grows to become a major emotional anchor for Rodgers as he goes through the process of getting to the bottom of Chasing Amy‘s cumulative cultural impact and uncovers various personal revelations. Indeed, it’s this particular relationship and the resiliency it represents that is is both paralleled and given foils to by the varying types of relationships that have to do with Chasing Amy‘s creation, both within the world of the film and the events that occurred on set, and gives this documentary a robust emotional center beyond the quirkiness of Rodgers’s fascination with this film.

Sav Rodgers looks through various items in a record store.
Sicily Publicity

Indeed, Chasing Chasing Amy doesn’t just try to reflect on the romances depicted in the film itself, but also the relationship between Smith and Adams that lasted behind the scenes, and the individual impact it left behind on both of them. It’s more important than it seems at first, especially when we get to learning more about Adams, whose lengthy one-on-one interview with Rodgers towards the film’s end represents a major turning point for Rodgers’s entire approach to creating this documentary. Equally as important to consider in terms of the ground Chasing Chasing Amy covers through its veritable plethora of interviews, is the concept of what exactly makes for good representation — again, circling back to the central divide the documentary covers in terms of the film having been so pivotal to the lives of people like Rodgers while also being an incredibly flawed product of its time. Critics, queer filmmakers, and even the filmmakers and creatives behind Chasing Amy themselves all bring various points about the place this film has in queer cinema history, and the complex place it occupies by feeding certain stereotypes while also being earnestly written and informed enough to humanize certain sexualities on screen.

There’s no circumventing, of course, the fact that a signification portion of this film’s runtime is made up of talking-head interviews — a typically sterile documentary technique that’s only somewhat elevated by the fact that nearly all of the subjects being interviewed in this manner are so incredibly crucial to the narrative about Chasing Amy being told here. Of course, B-roll footage certainly exists in this documentary, predominantly in the form of clips from Chasing Amy and other pivotal queer films such as Go Fish, as well as footage of either Rodgers spending time with Riley or visiting a handful of Chasing Amy‘s filming locations. However, it’s an unavoidable facet of the film’s structure that everything in the periphery of the film’s interviews works as supplementary material, and for documentary viewers who are largely dissuaded from works that don’t predominantly feature on-the-scene footage, Chasing Chasing Amy may not satisfy outside of the insights being delivered from the interviews in question.

Boundless are many of these insights however, and it’s clear how personal and earnest of an attempt this was on Rodgers’s part to try and encapsulate the personal impact of such a specific product of its time, as well as figuring out Chasing Amy‘s place in the current discourse surrounding what constitutes proper queer representation in media, especially in a fraught and precarious era for queer rights where assessing the impact of said representation has never been more important. Much of this film seems to be obviously constructed off of immense fortune on Rodgers’s part — rarely does a documentarian seeking to make an extended thinkpiece / fan-service film about a very particular movie get the chance to speak so closely to said movie’s creative heads — but at the same time, it becomes abundantly clear just how much of Chasing Chasing Amy is a love story, not just in the cinephilic sense, and not because of the ways it mirrors the film it’s about, but also in how it evidently served as a pivotal catalyst for Rodgers to discover more about his identity and strengthen his bonds with those he holds dear. When we talk about queer joy and feeling seen by the media we consume, perhaps Rodgers can serve as a wondrously euphoric example of what exactly we mean by that.

Written by James Y. Lee

Student screenwriter, freelance film critic, and member of the Chicago Indie Critics and GALECA. Has likely praised far too many 2010s films as "modern classics." Currently studies film and involved in theatre at Northwestern University.

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