I Like Movies review

I Like Movies is a sterling entry in the cinéma du ‘lil’ shit’ canon

3.5 out of 5 stars

“Like most insufferable people, I used to work in a video store.”

—Paul F. Tompkins

They say to write what you know, but I’m not sure what they say about how what you know can be so perfectly lined up with what others know; everything about Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies feels so specific to some of my own experiences that I can even smell some of its locations. Levack finds the universal in the specificities of being a turn-of-the-millennium suburban Canadian movie geek with delusions of grandeur that are far outrunning your social skills. 

Isaiah Lehtinen plays Lawrence Kweller, an easily agitated teenage movie lover who lives in the beige Ontarian suburb of Burlington with his single mother (Krista Bridges). All Lawrence really cares about is movies: watching them, making them, discussing them, thinking about them, bothering people about them and generally basing his entire existence around his spotless movie taste. This makes Lawrence kind of a loner, but for his one friend Matt (Percy Hynes White) who affably goes along with all of Lawrence’s schemes but seems to be moving on from their weekly “Rejects Night” as his patience with Lawrence’s frequent outbursts of immature pretension (and his utter rejection of Matt’s burgeoning romance with a fellow classmate) seem to grow.

Things only get worse, really, when Lawrence lands a dream job working at a big-box video rental store managed by Alana (Romina D’Ugo), a woman in her early 30s who doesn’t seem to share Lawrence’s love for movies at all in spite of her job. With the goal of optimizing his free rentals and finding conversation partners who share his obsessive love of movies, Lawrence begins spending more and more time at Sequels Video and experiencing life outside his bubble for the first time. As he waits with bated breath to hear back from NYU (the only film school worth going to, he opines, because you might get Todd Solondz as a professor), he gets a crash course in the real life you don’t often find in movies.

Isaiah Lehtinen I Like Movies
Isaiah Lehtinen and Percy Hynes White in I Like Movies

A narcissistic solipsist with the fashion sense of an octogenarian, Lawrence is a difficult character to like. He’s impatient and quick to lash out at others in pointless attempts at self-preservation; he loves nothing more than to listen to himself talk about movies that he only understands through the extremely limited prism of his own life, itself dedicated almost entirely to the consumption of movies. He focuses on himself to block out the negative effects of trauma, but Lawrence isn’t even really bullied or rejected outright; he casts himself out before anyone else can do it. “It’s so depressing to think I have to spend the rest of my life being me,” he says.

What sets Lawrence apart from the majority of legendary insufferable nerds of the silver screen is Lehtinen’s performance, which brings a significant amount of sympathy to the table. It would have been easy to make Lawrence a tragicomic character generating cringe-worthy moments — a Napoleon Dynamite with an ever-expanding obsession with Paul Thomas Anderson — but when we laugh at I Like Movies, we’re neither laughing at Lawrence, nor with him. He’s a very complex and well-drawn character in a world where it would be easy to simply dismiss him as embarrassing or, as Alana herself does after Lawrence’s umpteenth fuckup, as a budding incel who will go on to be entirely blind to his own privilege.

In that sense, I Like Movies works better as a character sketch than in its overtly comedic moments, which tend to lean on sitcom-adjacent antics perpetrated by supporting characters that subsequently rob the most dramatic moments of a bit of their power. It remains remarkable that Levack is able to juggle so many tones and textures with such limited means. Frankly, being able to replicate the sterile worn-carpet vibes of most video stores with any sort of budget when video stores are all but extinct is a feat in itself. 

Though obviously borrowing from retail-work staples of the video store era like Clerks, Empire Records or High Fidelity, Levack brings an incredible attention to detail to every frame of I Like Movies. Packed with MuchMusic-adjacent turn-of-the-century pop-punk (and a score by Murray A. Lightburn of the Dears), a truly Canadian sense of scale (much of Lawrence’s obsession with NYU also stems from his desire to avoid becoming a Canadian filmmaker — in his American-auteur-addled brain, nothing could be worse) and discussions of Jimmy Fallon’s unsatisfying run on Weekend Update, it should prove a potent antidote to Gen Z’s growing obsession with early 2000s aesthetics while also sending most people my age into a tizzy of anti-nostalgia.

Suffice to say that there’s something intensely personal about I Like Movies that also manages to avoid the pitfalls inherent in a debut film, namely packing it too full of stuff based on the (not necessarily false) notion that it may be your only chance. Levack has made a film in her hometown based on what I presume are real memories of working in a video store, but it avoids making saccharine conclusions. (No movie that makes Ottawa into a figure of redemption could really truly be saccharine.) It’s an impressive debut AND a sterling entry in the cinéma du lil’ shit canon. What more could this former (and hopefully reformed) lil’ shit ask for? ■

I Like Movies (directed by Chandler Levack)

I Like Movies opened in Montreal theatres on March 10 and is streaming now in theatres on Netflix.

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