Remake A Better, Bi-er ‘Chasing Amy’

[caption id="attachment_12265" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Ben Affleck as Holden and Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa in 'Chasing Amy' Ben Affleck as Holden and Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa in Chasing Amy[/caption]

Chasing Amy is a complicated movie for a feminist fan. There’s the initial terror that it’s an “air-quotes ‘lesbian’ just needed to find the right guy” rom com (see Katherine Murray’s piece for BF: “When It Seems Like the Movie You Are Watching Might Hate You”). This fear is dissuades despite the film’s obtuse refusal to use the word “bisexual,” as we get to know more about would-be erstwhile lesbian Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), and see that even though no one ever uses the word in the film, she is bisexual. And Chasing Amy levels some really poignant criticism of straight men’s fear of and failure to understand women’s sexuality, as we see that Ben Affleck’s Holden prizes Alyssa’s lesbianism not because of a fetish or the pride of a challenge, but because he conflates it with sexual purity. And while this is a fascinating, under-explored facet of sexual politics, the movie ends up seeming to be more about Holden’s hurt fee fees more than Alyssa’s actual sexual identity and choices.

When a movie has so much promise but such big problems, especially a movie so dated by the ebbing flannel tide of the late 1990s, there’s only one reasonable option: A REMAKE.

And in this remake, I humbly submit the following suggested improvements upon the original:

1. Make Holden less (or more) horrible (preferably less)

[caption id="attachment_12262" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Holden McNeil: The Worst Holden McNeil: The Worst[/caption]

Holden is one of those movie protagonists who is so abjectly hate-able I really doubt you’re supposed to like him. I mean, his name is Holden. He’s played by Ben Affleck at the height of his smug uselessness. He’s too cool for his own improbable success as a comic book writer and artist, refusing to sell out to producers who want to adapt his title into an animated series. He rolls his eyes at his friends more than he listens to them. He assumes Alyssa wants his D because she talks to him. He wears oversized cardigans over ratty white undershirts in public. (Plead 90s all you want, ‘Fleck. I won’t hear that defense in my court.)  And he breaks up with his girlfriend because she’s encountered other penises before his, and absurdly insists the only way for her to make this up to him is to have a threesome with him and his best friend (more on that later).

Holden’s awfulness makes it harder to feel sorry for him when his total failures as a human being bite him in the ass, which takes up a lot of the third act. The remake could get around this problem by owning Holden’s The Worstness and framing the outcome as just deserts. But Holden’s awfulness also calls into question Alyssa’s character judgment. When she says she didn’t want her gender preference to stop her from being with someone who “complements [her] so completely”, you have to wonder what kind of person would feel that way about this knob. So if Holden is more likeable, so will be Alyssa, and the entire movie.

I would start by giving him a name other than Holden.

2. Explicitly address bisexuality.

[caption id="attachment_12264" align="aligncenter" width="425"]Gif of Alyssa by Film Fatale Gif of Alyssa by Film Fatale[/caption]

Alyssa is certainly within her rights to identify as lesbian despite having had sex with men and dating a man. But the total absence of the word “bisexual” makes the viewer worry that the concept isn’t in the filmmaker’s worldview. And given media’s track record with bi-erasure, that’s very troubling. Chasing Amy actually has interesting things to say about biphobia, shown in both the hetero- and homosexual sides of Alyssa’s social circles. But it is impossible to really appreciate them in a movie that may itself be so biphobic as to deny its central bisexual character that label.

Especially because Alyssa is probably not the only bisexual character in the film! Which leads me to…

3. Deal with male sexuality beyond male ignorance of female sexuality.

[caption id="attachment_12263" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Holden and Banky (Jason Lee) Holden and Banky (Jason Lee)[/caption]

The weakest part of Chasing Amy is the subplot about Banky’s alleged repressed attraction to Holden, mostly because the actors are so uncomfortable with it there might as well be a flashing “no homo” chyron. That palpable discomfort really muddles what the film was trying to say about the potential for homoerotic tension in close male friendships. I honestly don’t know if we’re supposed to think Banky is really gay or bi or just in love with Holden, and to what extent Holden returns those feelings (for what it’s worth, he’s the one who kisses Banky and proposes they have group sex with Alyssa).

So the remake has got to clear all this up, and cast some actors who can handle the material.

And because our culture is currently obsessed with “bromances,” this kind of deconstruction will be all the more topical.

And speaking of topical, it’s 2014. The fluidity of female sexuality is not particularly fresh subject matter, and male sexuality is rarely depicted as anything less than concrete. Digging deeper into Holden and Banky’s relationship has a lot of potential. It would be even better to see trans and/or nonbinary characters in this mix so it’s not a lot of “men are from monosexual Mars women are from bisexual Venus” hooey.

4. Centralize Alyssa

[caption id="attachment_12266" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa[/caption]

Even if the male characters are made more likable and interested as outlined above, Chasing Amy would still have the problem of making Alyssa the object and not the subject of the story. Why does Alyssa obscure her history with men to Holden? How does Alyssa feel about her gay friends feeling betrayed when she dates a man? What does Alyssa think about the potential sexual layer of Banky and Holden’s relationship? Chasing Amy hardly deals with any of this because it is really only about Holden’s wants, needs, and feelings. Which is silly, because who’s having the more interesting story here: “I thought I was a lesbian but I fell in love with a guy?” or “I thought I was straight and I fell in love with a girl.”? Obviously those are gross over-simplifications of Alyssa and Holden’s arcs, and would hopefully be even moreso in this new-and-improved remake. But seriously, it seems pretty clear the only reason Holden is the main character here is that he’s the white dude.

You’re welcome, Hollywood. With these four easier-said-than-done steps you can remake a problematic minor classic into a perfectly awesome MEGA CLASSIC. Or at least another staple of queer media studies syllabi.

 


Robin Hitchcock is an American writer living in Cape Town.