After his 1994 black-and-white indie sensation breakout, ClerksKevin Smith’s second most highly regarded film is undoubtedly the bittersweet 1997 “boy meets lesbian” romantic comedy Chasing Amy,
One of the central reasons: Joey Lauren Adams, who transcended the dude-centric energy of Smith’s smart-yet-sophomoric brand of shenanigans with a soulful performance and unmistakable voice that keyed a more mature, more nuanced story (even if the writer-director’s) depiction of bisexuality in the film was called “clumsy” and hasn’t necessarily aged any better).
“A sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating rom-com dressed up as a raunchy buddy comedy, Chasing Amy pushed the boundaries of sexual mores, pitted the casual (and sometimes not-so-casual) misogyny of comic book culture against budding male vulnerability, and tackled the complications of love and friendship in ways that deeply connected with a generation of almost-adults in the ’90s who were just figuring out how to grow up,” Shannon Keating wrote for buzzfeed in exploring its sexual politics in 2017.
Think pieces aside, few can deny Adams killed as Alyssa Jones, comic book artist and gay objection of affection for Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck), the Bluntman and Chronic writer whose pursuit of her threatens his relationship with his best friend Banky Edwards (Jason Lee). While Smith’s flock of players typically portray the same character in every entry of his “View Askewniverse,” all three actors actually played different roles in 1995’s Mallrats — but have hung on to their Amy personas ever since.
Adams’s career had been on the uptick since a guest role on the popular ’90s sitcom Married With Children (her character famously took Bud Bundy’s virginity) lead to the short-lived spinoff Top of the Heap in 1991. Notables roles in the 1993 movies Dazed and Confused, The Program and Coneheads as well as 1994’s SFW would follow.
Smith and Adams dated after making Mallrats together, and when their relationship ended, the filmmaker wrote Chasing Amy as “sort of penance/valentine” and a “thank-you homage” to Adams. (While a rumor later surfaced that Adams herself was bisexual, she denied it, and married Brian Vilim in 2014.)
Adams drew instant high praise for her compelling turn as Alyssa. All-time great critic Roger Ebert called her “a discovery.” Wrote Newsweek‘s David Ansen: “Adams will tear your heart out as she fights to bring Holden back to his senses.” Opened Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers: “She delivers Alyssa’s stand on sexual politics with bewitching persuasiveness.”
The Arkansas-born actress won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actress, and also earned high profile nominations from the Golden Globes (Best Actress, Musical or Comedy) and the MTV Movie Awards (Best Breakthrough Performance) and Best Kiss, shared with Carmen Llywelyn).
So why haven’t we seen much of Adams since? And especially in the past decade or so?
It’s not that Adams hasn’t been working, but much of her work has flown under the radar.
Her most memorable post-Amy role probably came in 1999’s Big Daddy, in which she played the lawyer Layla Maloney, love interest to Adam Sandler’s unlikely caretaker. “I bought a boat after that film, and called it ‘Big Daddy,'” she told Funny or Die in 2012.
In the years that followed, Adams worked with Shirley MacLaine (2000’s Bruno), Sally Field (2000’s Beautiful) and James Toback (2001’s Harvard Man) and Harvey Keitel (Beeper), but none of those projects broke through.
She did voice a squirrel in Dr. Dolittle (2001) and play Jennifer Aniston’s sister in The Break-Up (2006), but those were her only hits of the decade — and certainly not the type of leading lady opportunities it felt like she deserved after Amy,
Adams has worked with Smith twice again, reprising her role of Alyssa Jones for cameo appearances in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019).
After a six-episode arc in United States of Tara in 2010, her steadiest role in more recent years came in the 2016-17 CMT sitcom Still the Kingin which she costarred with country star Billy Ray Cyrus through two seasons and 26 episodes.
So what is her relationship with acting now? The now-54-year-old Adams hasn’t done much press in recent years, so we can only speculate. “She hasn’t come right out and said it, but Joey Lauren Adams seems to have all but retired to wedded bliss,” wrote Giant Freaking Robot‘s Ross Bonaime a year ago.
According to Adams’s IMDb page, however, she recently completed a comedy called tankhouseis currently filming the horror movie Oak and could re-team with Smith for a Mallrats sequel.
In the meantime, we’ll continue Chasing Joey. From afar. You know, not literally.