This month sees the theatrical release of the documentary about Midnight Cowboy that made the festival circuit last year. At the same time, a new doc about another controversial gay-themed movie has its world premiere at Tribeca. Chasing Chasing Amy will also close next month’s Outfest in Los Angeles. This picture has a backstory as fascinating as the tale told in Kevin Smith’s 1997 romantic dramedy, Chasing Amy.
Filmmaker Sav Rodgers, a transgender man, recounts his own obsession with Kevin Smith’s movie, which played a crucial role in his coming out and later transitioning. Rodgers grew up in Kansas and, like many gay teenagers, felt like a freak and outsider in a conservative community. When he saw Chasing Amy on video, it was his first exposure to a proud lesbian character (played by Joey Lauren Adams), who eventually has a love affair with a male comic book artist (Ben Affleck in one of his earliest and best roles). In 2018 Rodgers gave a TED talk about the importance of Chasing Amy to gay and lesbian young people and especially to his own sense of identity. That talk eventually reached the filmmakers and stars of Chasing Amy and made them receptive to meeting Rodgers when he decided to film his own very personal documentary.
Chasing Chasing Amy
The Bottom Line
Chasing truth — and finding it.
The filmmaker’s journey started in 2019, when he visited Kevin Smith’s haunts in New Jersey (which has souvenir stores devoted to all of Smith’s cult movies). Then Rodgers traveled to Los Angeles to interview Smith, cast members Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee and Guinevere Turner (also the screenwriter of lesbian classic Go Fish and other films). Rogers also snagged interviews with the producers of the film as well as gay critics, festival programmers and filmmakers, including Andrew Ahn, director of Fire Island and Driveways. Affleck did not participate in the doc but did send a supportive message to Rodgers after seeing footage of his TED talk.
As some of these commentators indicate, Chasing Amy — which received mainly positive reviews on its release — later became a controversial artifact within the LBGTQ community. That is because the film showed Adams’ character — a proud and out lesbian at the beginning of the picture — ultimately falling in love with Affleck’s character. Some of these later critics overlooked the fact that Chasing Amy does not end on an idyllic note for either character. Their relationship is ultimately destroyed by what might today be called the Affleck character’s toxic masculinity. He becomes obsessively jealous of Adams’ past romantic and sexual relationships — and this plot element was apparently drawn from the real-life relationship of Smith and Adams. Both of them discuss the breakup of their relationship with Candor.
There are other complexities to the sexual politics of this story. One professor of bisexual studies and a couple of other interviewees make the point that in some LGBTQ circles, bisexuality is often maligned and discounted. Adding yet another dimension, Kevin Smith looks back on Chasing Amy‘s premiere at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, where Harvey Weinstein bought the movie and whooped it up with Smith and the cast members. As Smith observes, it was at that festival in 1997 that Weinstein allegedly raped Rose McGowan. There are a lot of regrets and second thoughts expressed in this illuminating movie.
In addition, the coming-out and transition story of Rodgers himself enriches the picture. At one point while interviewing Smith in 2019, Rodgers stops the interview and decides to tell Smith about the early stages of his own transition. As the film continues to the present day, we see Rodgers’ completion of this journey.
His own personal relationships add texture to the story. As a teenager he became involved with a woman named Riley, and they fell in love. When he completed his transition, there was a question of how he and Riley would resolve their relationship. But that is a denouement that viewers should discover for themselves when they see the movie. Late in the film, we also meet Sav’s mother, who was supportive of him at all stages of his life. We come to realize that even in conservative Kansas, there are enlightened and compassionate people who can be counted as friends and supporters of LGBTQ rights.
As a piece of filmmaking, Chasing Chasing Amy is effectively put together. Rodgers uses comic book cards to make some of the transitions, an appropriate reference to the comic-book obsession of Smith and the characters in Chasing Amy. Perhaps the most moving moment — at least to a film critic — comes near the end when Smith addresses Rodgers, who fears that he may have taken up too much of the filmmaker’s time and energy. As Smith says to counter that concern, “You gave me back my movie.” To anyone who has spent a life watching and trying to appreciate art, that is perhaps the highest praise that any of us could receive.
Check the latest Hollywood news here.