Imagine if The Fabelmans and Superbad made love and had a baby…
I Like Movies is an independent Canadian film from writer/director Chandler Levack, who has drawn from her own life experiences as a teenager in Burlington, Ontario. The story focuses on Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), a 17 year old high school freshman who loves making short films and watching Saturday Night Live with his best friend.
Lawrence also has bold and ambitious aspirations to become a filmmaker by way of film school at NYU. A dream that unfortunately comes with a $90,000 price tag. With no job himself, and his single mother doing everything she already can to provide for Lawrence, he gets a job at the local video store with the unabashed, yet completely unaware, notion that he will have $90,000 by the time college admissions open in just a few short months.
Lawrence is a huge cinephile. Like, a massive cinephile. He loves Kubrick. He’s excited for the new PTA with Adam Sandler, Punch Drunk Love to release in cinemas. He doesn’t want to pre-sell tapes of Shrek to customers, because Shrek isn’t cinema (a line that shocked the audience at the Sydney Film Festival). And Lawrence lets everyone in his path know that he is destined for filmmaking greatness at NYU, just like his favourite directors!
However, his stereotypical, cinephilic-bro rants about film are often the bane of the existence of those close to him. Until Sequels Video manager Alana (Romina D’ugo) recognises a kindred spirit between herself and Lawrence, and attempts to connect with him on a human level, outside of movies.
The nostalgic feeling of the early 2000s is a large throughline for I Like Movies, from the video store itself, to the titles of movies being thrown around in dialogue that bring back fond movie watching memories of that era. The feeling of being back in those high school days, with your friends, hanging out at the video store on a Friday night create a strong immersion for the film. But, Lawrence’s level of cinephilia will undoubtedly cause some self-reflection for those more hardcore film fans.
I Like Movies blasts onto the screen with a hilarious student film created by Lawrence and his best friend, Matt (Percy Hynes White, Wednesday) that in no way, shape or form adhered to the criteria set by their film studies teacher, with Lawrence relentlessly arguing his status as a filmmaker who doesn’t care for the guidelines set by educational departments, and borderline embarrassing Matt.
The dynamic between Lawrence and Matt is reminiscent of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad. Lawrence is a foul-mouthed, fast-talking, narcissist, and Matt is timid and respectful, but enjoys his friends’ company despite his rudeness. The Superbad comparison can also be aligned with this film’s humour, which is crude, crass and gut-bustingly funny, with some deep-cut jokes for film fans. One involving a literal Sophie’s Choice decision at the Sequels Video store.
However, as the film goes on, and the complicated friendship with Lawrence and Alana evolves outside of boss/employee, the reasons behind Lawrence’s behaviour become more apparent, and the connection Alana initially felt with Lawrence stems from something much more thematically serious. There is a tonal shift that occurs in the later half of I Like Movies, and not necessarily a shift that takes away the humour, but one that delves into more complicated matters, but matters necessary for the characters to grow. Some of that drama works well, with two highlights involving a jaw-dropping, powerhouse monologue from Alana, and a heightened emotional scene for Lawrence. Other times, the themes can feel like they are only getting explored on a surface level, and don’t feel as urgently emotionally investible for the plot.
I Like Movies is a movie made by film lovers, for film lovers. The comedy hits on a lot of levels, and the authenticity of the relationships between the characters is truly engaging. When the film tries to hit home on an emotional level, it succeeds just enough to work, but not entirely enough to be unwaveringly moving.
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