Female Trouble

Chasing Amy wouldn't be so likable if the performers weren't. (All three leads appeared in Mallrats.) Smith has a clean, nothing-fancy visual style, but he knows how to set off his actors. In his previous features, he had them speak in clipped cadences that made them sound like smart-alecky stand-ups. He's slowed down the pace in Chasing Amy; his players sound recognizably human. Affleck has an easygoing charm that can contort into something shaggier and more unpredictable. Lee is a whiz at showing how Banky is wised up to everything but himself. Dwight Ewell plays swishy black cartoonist Hooper, who puts on an official face of black militancy at comic-book conventions; he's so good at the yin and yang of this character that you're never quite sure which of Hooper's guises is the pretender.

And Adams is remarkably good in the way she makes Alyssa comprehensible in her many modes: unflinching, cowed, slangy, soft-spoken, weathered, newborn. Alyssa seems to be going through her changes at the very moment we experience them. Adams, with her cracked babykins voice, bears a strong resemblance both to Renee Zellweger and to Cameron Diaz -- but in terms of talent, she's all her own.

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