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MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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There is something about Kevin Smith’s style that I just don’t like. I enjoyed Chasing Amy while I was watching it, but afterwards I was glad it was over. In that sense it was like Pulp Fiction. Both are fun to watch, but I was relieved to come out of the theater and see that reality isn’t like what was on screen.

To chase Amy is to regret having ruined your once-in-a-lifetime relationship, as Holden (Ben Affleck) learns the hard way.

Holden lives with Banky (Jason Lee), and the two of them collaborate on the comic book “Chronic and Bluntman.” After a comic book convention, they join two friends, Hooper and Alyssa (Dwight Ewell and Joey Lauren Adams) for drinks.

While Banky and Hooper argue over the sexual orientation of the characters in Archie comics, Holden and Alyssa get to know each other.

Alyssa invites Holden to a night club the next day and they hit it off well. Holden is just starting to see the beginnings of a relationship when Alyssa runs into her girlfriend and starts making out with her. Naturally, Holden is disappointed and shocked. Later, while Alyssa and Banky compare cunnilingus-related injuries, Holden moves from disappointment to disgust and despair.

A few days later, Alyssa shows up to make amends with Holden. She doesn’t want their friendship to end. They become very good friends, but Holden still wants more.

It turns out that Alyssa loves Holden enough to allow the relationship to grow beyond friendship and all is well until Holden learns of her sexual history with men. This is too much for him and he calls the relationship off. There is much soul-searching by all of the characters before the movie reaches its logical conclusion.

The story is a refreshing twist on the standard romantic comedy, but something about Kevin Smith’s style leaves me feeling a little dirty.

First of all, this movie (like Clerks, his debut) is very sex-centered. His characters talk a lot about sex, which makes for interesting, honest, and funny dialog, but the sum of the movie, then, feels — well, dirty. It seems that these characters live in a mystical land far away from this reality — another world where everybody has sex with ten different partners by high school graduation, then talks about it at length with strangers and acquaintances.

Also, this movie has a very heterosexual male point of view. One might say it borders on prejudice. Holden is okay with Alyssa’s promiscuity as a lesbian, but he can’t accept the idea of her promiscuity with men. Also, Alyssa’s homosexuality is “cured” when she meets the right man. The movie does handle this issue sensitively and carefully — it is within Alyssa’s character to choose Holden — but the whole idea seems heterosexist. Imagine a counterexample: two friends, both male, one gay. Imagine the gay friend falling hopelessly in love with the straight friend. The straight friend is not likely to be swayed, no matter how persistent the gay friend is. In fact, the awkwardness of the situation might ruin their friendship. But we accept the situation when a charming heterosexual man wins over a sexually confused lesbian.

Still, Chasing Amy has good characters, good dialog, and a good screenplay.

Alyssa is a well developed character. She is not merely the object of another character’s desire, as is too often the case in romantic comedies. Hooper is a minor comic character but his wisdom adds a rational voice to the movie. He is funny as the flaming homosexual cartoonist whose plays the angry African-American in order to sell more copies of his comic, “Cracker-Hatin’ Coon.” (This is another instance of Smith the screenwriter walking a fine line between creating interesting autonomous characters and furthering stereotypes.)

Banky and Holden share some good dialog. They disagree enough that their discussions are always interesting, exposing all sorts of different layers within different topics. When Holden and Alyssa talk, they reveal their hearts to each other with a bare honesty uncommon in most movies.

The story is simple enough, but Holden introduces an interesting twist near the end which itself would have made for a clever ending. Smith carries the story just a little further to explore the consequences of that twist.

As repellent as I sometimes find Kevin Smith, I must admit that he is a talented filmmaker. Chasing Amy appears to have been made on a shoestring (albeit a bigger one than Clerks). Smith realizes that he doesn’t need special effects, slick lighting, or expensive sets to make a good move. A good script, a few friends, and a promise to thank all of his backers in the credits is all he needs.