I LIKE MOVIES Review: Cinephilia is Lovingly Skewered in Whip-Smart Coming of Age Comedy
We talk perhaps a bit too much about films that are 'love letters to cinema', a term adorned too widely. Instead, maybe what we need a more odes to the cinephile. I count myself among that group, but then perhaps there is a specific kind of cinephile that needs an ode: one whose obsession reaches almost manic heights, one that sees everyone that doesn't agree with him and every film that doesn't meet his exhaustive standards, as beneath him. But there is also a lot to love in that cinephile, if you know how to bring out their heart.
So let's call Chandler Levack's feature debut, I Like Movies, an ode to the cinephile. And what a tremendous debut it is. Inciteful, smart, funny, heartfelt, and yes, quite skewering of those kinds of cinephiles we have known (and more than a few of us have been at one point in our lives). It's also an ode to Canadian suburbia, the terrifying and and energetic high school years, the late 90s/early aughts, and the strange part-time jobs that we loved to hate.
Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) is in his senior year of high school, and his life revolves around two things: movies, and going to Tisch School of the Arts. So blinded is he to everything else, he has no problem ignoring the instructions of his teachers, talking back to his long-suffering single mother Terri (Krista Bridges), and treating his best friend Matt (Percy Hynes White) as an accessory. At the insistance of his mother, he gets a part time job at Sequels, the local video rental store. This is a dream come true, but even for this, Lawrence still insists that he's above it all. But bonding with his manager Alana (Romina D'Ugo) brings out some past trauma that forces Lawrence to face the consequences of his actions.
While it might be easy to be caught up in the nostalgia of the video rental store and how much it shaped a generation of cinephiles, Levack does not oversentimentalize either the place or the obsession. We're not just seeing Lawrence finding the perfect movie for the customers, but we're also seeing midnight inventory and cleaning up customer vomit. It's also unsentimental about the pressures of that high school senior year, how the change that's coming - moving from the security of home, of lifelong friends, into a world that's harsher than it should be - can be overwhelming. High school can be fraught with problems and anxieties, but it could have also been a time to embrace being carefree, if Lawrence had taken that time.
Lawrence might not have a big social circle, but he has his movies, and the overwhelming joy he receives from the likes of Todd Solondz and SNL leave little room for anything else. When he acts out on that joy in a way that embraces those around him, his enthusiasm is infectious - he's smart, engaging, and fun to be around. When he puts himself on his pedastel, he's insufferable, demanding, and often cruel. Lehtinen walks this tightrope with absolute perfection - we often are so angry and annoyed at Lawrence, but we can't help but be patient with him. But those around him have different reactions, and it's not all going to come out roses for Lawrence. Some mistakes can't be fixed.
And Lawrence has to reckon with reality: his single mother can't afford to send him to NYU; ignoring other people in his life who might also have talent as a filmmaker will leave him on the sidelines; and the film industry has its very brutal side, as Alana reveals in a gut-wrenching moment of clarity (D'Ugo gives an outstanding delivery of this crucial monologue). And when Lawrence does break down, when the scared child he tries so hard to hide behind his mask of knowledge is revealed, we can't help but see our own inner child that is too often ignored.
Levack has a keen eye for the good and the not-so-good of the dreams we have when we're teenagers, the lengths we go to to make them happen, and the reality that we just can't see when we're too obsessed with our dream and ourselves. At the same time, I Like Movies embraces the things that give us joy, and (with a healthy dose of reality) encourages us to seek that joy.
I Like Movies opens in select cinemas in Canada on Friday, March 10th.
I Like Movies
- Chandler Levack
- Chandler Levack
- Isaiah Lehtinen
- Alex Ateah
- Dan Beirne