‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ Shows How Much One Movie Can Shape a Life

Sav Rodgers talks about his documentary unpacking the controversial '90s rom-com, as well as his transition and an intense interview with Joey Lauren Adams.

‘Chasing Chasing Amy’ Shows How Much One Movie Can Shape a Life
Image:Screenshot: Chasing Chasing Amy; Miramax

Sav Rodgers’ documentary Chasing Chasing Amy, and by extension his life, would probably look much different if filmmaker Kevin Smith hadn’t asked a simple question during shooting: What are your pronouns? Rodgers had set out to make a film about Smith’s 1997 rom-com Chasing Amy, in which Joey Lauren Adams’ Alyssa, an out and proud lesbian, falls for dudebro Holden, played by Ben Affleck. Specifically, Rodgers was interested in the varying reactions to the movie from within the LGBTQ+ community, which range from admiration to disdain (of course, in the straight guy’s narrative, the straight guy character turns the lesbian).

Rodgers has long sat on the “admiration” side of the spectrum. In 2019, he gave a TED Talk called “The rom-com that saved my life,” about Chasing Amy’s positive impact on his life as a bullied queer youth, which gained the attention of various people involved in the production, like Smith and Affleck. In his doc, which premieres Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival, Rodgers recounts the impact Chasing Amy made on him after he first watched it at age 12: “Slowly as I started to learn more about my sexuality, this is my only reference point to how I may feel about having a fluid sexuality, and that movie gave me that reference point.”

Chasing Amy was, in part, based on Smith’s romantic relationship with Adams in real life, but it also took a page from the straight guy-queer girl romance of producer Scott Mosier (Smith’s friend and collaborator) and the lesbian-identifying screenwriter Guinevere Turner. (Mosier and Turner met at Sundance in 1994, where Clerks premiered as did Go Fish, which Turner wrote and produced with her then-girlfriend, Rose Troche). Clearly, there was a lot to unpack.

The movie was always going to include elements of Rodgers’ life as well, and we see several scenes of him kind of LARPing as he visits various New Jersey filming locations featured in Chasing Amy alongside his girlfriend (now wife) Riley. But Smith’s question regarding Rodgers’ pronouns while they were shooting an interview changed the course of his life—up until that point, he told Jezebel in a Zoom recently, he never thought he was going to come out as trans. Not in the movie, not in real life.

“It was just kind of a spontaneous thing where you have somebody who’s shaped your life in a lot of ways kind of giving you permission to be yourself in some ways [by] asking for clarity,” said Rodgers. “And I was like, ‘Okay, well, I’ll be honest. Yeah, I’ll be honest with myself here.’”

Chasing Chasing Amy juggles a lot. It’s a fond retrospective of the 1997 film that nonetheless wonders aloud, “Why do LGBTQ+ people not like this movie?” It’s an expression of fandom on an extraordinary scale, and yet as personal as Rodgers’ story and relationship to Chasing Amy is, one of the bigger effects of such multitiered storytelling is to show how pop culture can shape a single life.

“I always thought of Chasing Amy as kind of like a cultural Rorschach test, where whatever you’re looking to get out of it is probably what you’re going to get out of it,” said Rodgers. “Whether it’s intentional or not, your expectations or confirmation bias may inform how you read Chasing Amy as a movie, and I’m finding that it also may be that way for our documentary.”

Image:Chasing Chasing Amy

Rodgers assembled a lively crew of talking heads, including many actors who appeared in Chasing Amy, as well as Smith. Turner recounts her connection with Mosier and criticizes the character Alyssa’s gestures when explaining fisting to Holden in the movie (“I don’t know if anyone in this room has ever fisted someone, but you don’t do it like that”). Critics and other filmmakers mull the importance of Chasing Amy, which was, for its time, an extremely daring and open look at queer life, albeit through a less-than-ideal straight gaze.

But most arresting is the contribution of Adams, whose solo interview comes in about an hour into the doc and quickly turns tense. “There’s a weird energy exchange here and I feel like, are you looking to me for something I can’t give you?” Adams wonders after Rodgers has established himself as a fan.

“I don’t know what it is you want from me. I don’t know why you wanna walk to me,” Adams continues.

But after some more talk, her defenses relax and she gives a stunningly candid interview. She maintains that the depiction of her relationship with Smith in his script “wasn’t my truth,” and recalls Smith berating her for her sexual history. “He made me feel bad for living the life I had lived and being who I had been, because he was insecure,” she says.

“It made me kind of question like, is my love for ‘Chasing Amy’ a hindrance at a certain point?”

“I don’t love looking back on that time, it brings back all those old feelings of not just boyfriends, but like casting directors and producers of just like, ‘You’re just a piece of meat. You’re a whore,’” says Adams. She discusses Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax released Chasing Amy, as well as many of Smith’s other movies. Weinstein, Adams says, “treated me like shit,” though she says he didn’t want to have sex with her. That said, it was during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival that premiered Chasing Amy that Rose McGowan later alleged Weinstein raped her—yet another reason why hindsight is anything but rose-colored for Adams. (Smith also discusses working with Weinstein at some length in the doc, saying, “I can’t undo the fact that my career is tied up with him.”)

“I just didn’t have another bullshit Chasing Amy interview in me,” Adams tells Rodgers at the end of their talk. Rodgers said that as Adams went through her revelations, they didn’t feel like a scoop. “I wasn’t really thinking about the story or even like the movie or how it would be edited at that point,” he said. The interview, though, proved pivotal. “It made me kind of question like, is my love for Chasing Amy a hindrance at a certain point?” he said, adding, “I was really thinking of it through a queer lens, certainly, but not through the lens of people who worked on the movie and were intimately involved in it.”

Chasing Amy gave Rodgers language that set him on his journey to becoming himself, but he couldn’t have predicted just how much it would align with his life. As he points out to his wife toward the end of the movie: “Let’s talk about the fact that you still call yourself a lesbian, despite being married to a man—very Alyssa of you.”

“I’m thankful that this idea of restrictive labels have not held our relationship back,” said Rodgers in his interview, while acknowledging, “If I had written this as a screenplay, I would have been told to go back to the drawing board because it was too unrealistic.”

Image:Chasing Chasing Amy

Rodgers’ documentation of his transitioning is “intentional” and subtle—it’s acknowledged verbally and visually but there is not a ton of time spent on it. He said he sought to avoid medicalizing his experience. “We don’t need obligatory shots of me looking unhappy in the mirror. We don’t need the shots of me injecting hormones or anything like that,” he explained. He said that coming out as trans has made his life “immeasurably better.”

“Since getting to be myself fully, I feel way more confident in who I am,” he said. “My entire world has expanded. I found community with other trans people. It’s just allowed me to be more open as myself and to enjoy my life more. I’m not nearly as self-conscious as I was, and I think it has made me a better filmmaker, because if I can connect more with myself and know who I am and develop my point of view, it makes everything else better.”

I wondered if, given the wide hostility directed at trans people in the U.S. and abroad, legislatively and interpersonally, Rodgers sees his work documenting his transition as political.

“I think trans people have become the political football, so to speak—not by our own choice,” he replied. “As you can see in this movie, I’m just a guy who wants to make movies. So I think my existence is politicized, whether I like it or not. I recognize that this film enters into a culture that has its own feelings. But I just wanted to show my truth in a way that other trans people could see themselves in potentially.”

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