The genius that is Chasing Amy can be summed up with one word. Respect. The film deals with numerous issues that, at the time of release, weren’t exactly hot button but have since gone on to become engrained in the popular culture. Namely, the treatment and depiction of nerds.
Most people who are fans of the notoriously internet savvy writer/director Kevin Smith love him for his approachable, loveable and slightly curmudgeonly dialogue centric films. They also probably relate to the man behind the camera in some way. Most, when pressed, would probably answer Clerks as the release that sums up Smith’s films the best. His work usually center around average, everyday humans who have vaguely nerdy interests doing something… but that’s usually secondary to the conversations and relationships that they characters have. I mean, seriously, who watched Clerks 2 or Zach And Miri for plot development and awesome cinematic spectacle?
Getting back to the point, Chasing Amy is not only a superbly constructed film with brilliantly depicted characters but it also packages and delivers the nerd lifestyle with respect. More importantly it doesn’t fetishize it. Oh, sure, the film is really about human sexuality and the social constructs that either define us or enable us to be self-sufficient and not give a damn what anyone else thinks. And those elements are also handled really well. But that’s not really ground breaking. However, the way that Smith presents nerds is.
Holden McNeil is a comic book writer/penciler. He makes a book about a marijuana themed team of superheroes Bluntman and Chronic. It’s cute but not trailblazing and not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. This is Holden’s job. He makes comics. He likes comics. He’s a nerdy dude. BUT he’s good-looking. He’s got a social life. He’s a normal dude. And he reads comics. Because normal people read/make comics.
In the age of Big Bang Theory, market researched geekery, and ironic Nerdchique fetishists, it’s really impressive to look back and note how progressive Smith truly was. Sure, it helps that he is a massive nerd and he knows the playing field but when viewing this in context with his pervious film, the failed attempt at a studio teen comedy, Mallrats it really is apparent that Smith was learning from his lessons. Mallrats feels empty and hallow. It forces all the nerd references and pointlessly attempts to include laymen in on the jokes. Jay literally say, “Yeah, and then I’ll pop my claws like Wolverine from the X-men! Snikt Snikt!” Who talks like that? You’d just say Snikt Snikt. No real nerd would ever say ‘Wolverine from the X-men’. That’s a line that was written with a studio exec standing over Smith’s shoulder and politely informing him that the 35-50 demo wouldn’t get that joke.
Chasing Amy is a shining example of how to treat nerds onscreen. There’s no wacky personal affectations or sarcastically making fun of characters for playing D&D and liking Star Trek. The film doesn’t give a shit if you get all the references or not, and that’s what makes it beautiful. The Chow Young Fat as Madman joke in the beginning? I howl at that thing EVER TIME. You know why? Because it’s a joke for me. They guy who likes Madman and loves Allred. It’s not trying to rope me and a housewife from Des Moines in with the same punch line.
Of course, it’s obvious that I have some vested interest in how nerds are depicted in mainstream media. And that’s fine. I have a bias towards narratives that are constructed with respect for their subject matter. The same goes for the handling of gay and women characters in the film. Smith walks the tightrope of being funny and crass while probing at deeper issues like insane patriarchal ideas of what a woman’s sexuality should be as well as what the word ‘gay’ really means.
I love this film and I only wish that Smith had more in him like this. The wit, the grace, and the subtly of this film never cease to impress me. It saddens me that Smith doesn’t have anything else important to say. However, I am thankful that he is self-aware enough to realize that he is running on fumes and is preparing to retire.
Hopefully, as the nerd demographic becomes even more of a lucrative entity studios and creators alike will look to Chasing Amy as a prototype for how to construct respectful, insightful, and engaging narratives that deal with the nerd experience.