I Like Movies Review: A Funny, Smart Stroll Down Millennial Memory Lane [TIFF]

Chandler Levack's feature film debut "I Like Movies" is bursting with personality — just like its protagonist, Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen). Lawrence is a would-be auteur; a burgeoning cinephile, obsessed with film culture and confident that he has a bright future in the industry (if he can get into NYU and work with Todd Solondz, that is). Like many film-lovers of this caliber, he suffers from a strong case of self-importance. Mix that with his age, troubled home life, and personal trauma, and we have a recipe for a pretty intolerable young man. 

At least, that's what you would expect. "I Like Movies" strikes the right balance for Lawrence between vulnerable and loathsome, presenting a character we can root for, even as we disprove of his actions. Written and directed by Chandler Levack — who also developed a love of the movies growing up in Burlington, Ontario — "I Like Movies" feels personal, presenting a story that is at times hilarious, occasionally very dark, and always entertaining. 

The comedy-drama radiates with indie-charm, steeped in a nostalgia for circa 2002 Ontario suburban life that I remember all too well. The attention to detail here is remarkable. From the random shopper wearing a pink tracksuit and Ugg boots (of course she likes "Legally Blonde") to the low-rise khakis (I wore basically that exact outfit when I worked retail), to the Jones Soda, Hawkins "Cheezies" and gumball machine in the Sequels video store. Even the furniture in each scene felt authentic; slightly out-of-style patterns and styles that filled the homes of my youth. No one was buying a new couch every year. 

Life isn't like in the movies (except when it is)

Of course, attention to detail alone doesn't sell a story. The writing and direction in "I Like Movies" is strong. Levack's characters feel alive, and their idiosyncrasies and flaws making them all the more likable. Sometimes in these soft-spoken indie films, the dialogue all starts to sound the same — but Levack's avoided that trapping, giving a distinct voice to both the two teenage boys, Lawrence and his best friend Matt Macarchuk (Percy Hynes White), as well as the older women, Lawrence's mom (Krista Bridges) and Alana (Romina D'Ugo). 

White plays a very convincing shy, awkward teen boy, whose unsure of himself, emotionally unavailable, and much more sensitive than he cares to let on. The movie is carried by Lehtinen as Lawrence. This is one of those career-making roles; Lawrence is so egocentric, so emotionally fragile, and so sincere that it's hard to look away. We can laugh at his naivety and fervor, and still appreciate that — for many of us anyways — we were equally insufferable as teenagers. Lawrence has some growing up to do, and we get to witness the journey that takes him to adulthood.

Levack also gives us interesting shots in "I Like Movies." Lawrence's "cool" boss at Sequels, Alana, has an excellent monologue, and the scene is framed to evoke a theater stage. It's a subtle touch, but a very effective one that works both as a way to develop Alana's character as well as the film's central theme of performative art and identity. She says she hates movies, and she seems to have left that world behind her — but the scene demonstrates that whether or not she even realizes it, that passion to perform is still burning inside of her.

Loving you loving movies

At its core, "I Like Movies" is a celebration of movie lovers, which makes it a pretty perfect fit for TIFF. Lawrence's passion is infectious. He speaks of films in a way that, yes, reflects arrogance, but also a surprisingly deep appreciation of the medium. He unapologetically loves Adam Sandler (as many young men of the early aughts did) but he also appreciates Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson. Lawrence name-drops Todd Solondz and later recommends the film "Happiness" to customers. There's a "Welcome to the Dollhouse" feel to "I Like Movies" that suggests Levack herself is perhaps a fan. Regardless, there's a respect for legacy on display in the film that enriches the story.

This is a film about moving on and growing up. This is well-traveled territory in terms of subject matter, and nothing on display is especially groundbreaking or new. And yet, there's a nostalgic charm here that is compelling, and the writing, direction, and acting are all so strong — and that counts for something. 

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10