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Chasing Amy: The Criterion Collection

Kevin Smith's delightful Chasing Amy, already a bonafide cult-classic despite its relative newness, is something rare in the glutted realm of romantic comedies: a film which works not because of corny screwball situations, but because the characters are so real that we can see — and recognize — ourselves in them. Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) is a successful comic-book author living in Red Banks, New Jersey. After meeting fellow artist Alyssa Jones (Big Daddy's Joey Lauren Adams) at a comic convention, the two develop a close friendship which soon teeters on the verge of romance — or so Holden thinks. Unfortunately for him, his beloved Alyssa turns out to be a lesbian, but the deeply-smitten Holden doesn't let a minor thing like that thwart his attempts to win the heart of his dream-girl. Although Smith's plot may sound trite and unconvincing, he sells it by making Holden a completely sympathetic character: surely we've all felt the pain of unrequited love at one time or another, and Smith makes Holden's plight real for us by showing both the drama and the humor of the situation in roughly equal proportions. The most impressive thing about the story is the deft touch with which Smith paints his characters. As he proved in 1993's Clerks, Smith's material is so character-driven (rather than situation-dependent) that it could be adapted to the stage with virtually no changes to the script, and it's this attention to detail that allows the story to work. Add to this a terrific ensemble performance from a first-rate cast (although the show is repeatedly stolen by Jason Lee, who plays Banky Edwards, Holden's frustrated and easily agitated partner in the comic world), and we're left with a very real, thoroughly involving tale about unrequited love and the way it affects us. Chasing Amy is presented in a colorful widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. The disc also boasts oodles of special features, including a ton of deleted footage (the most memorable of which is the film's opening scene, which, like Smith's Mallrats, differs considerably from the theatrical release), the original theatrical trailer, interviews with Smith and the cast, and a hilarious audio commentary track (featuring Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and actors Ben Affleck and Jason Mewes) that is almost as entertaining as the movie itself. The one drawback to this release may be, ironically, Criterion's own exacting standards of quality: so determined is the company to use only the sharpest transfers that the DVD reveals a number of flaws in the source print, including occasional flecking and some light graininess in the image (resulting from the film's blow-up from 16mm to 35mm for the theatrical release, and not from any mastering problems on Criterion's behalf — the Laserdisc version has the same flaw, and the filmmakers comment on this in the commentary track). Still, Criterion's Chasing Amy DVD looks far better than Miramax's VHS release of the movie, and the disc is widescreen to boot. That, along with the generous gallery of special features, will surely delight fans of this raunchy but witty cinematic gem.
—Joe Barlow

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