I Like Movies – Review

I Like Movies “What’s your favourite movie?” It’s a question that most self-professed cinema lovers will have been asked at some point in passing conversation. For seventeen year old cinephile, Lawrence, it’s Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. At least, it is this week. By the time he’s taken out his next stack of rental movies from Sequel Video, something else will have come along that will have completely blown his mind.

Writer-director Chandler Levack’s feature-length debut, I Like Movies, has won praise at just about every film festival it has visited. And rightly so. It has, no doubt, struck a chord with those in the audience. After all, we’re there because we like movies, too. She focuses her film on Lawrence (the brilliant Isaiah Lehtinen), who is desperate to be accepted to a prestigious New York film school so he can pursue his directorial dreams. In a bid to save up the $90,000 fee, he takes on a part-time job at his local DVD rental store, where he hopes he can while away his days sharing his passion for movies with his customers.

This coming-of-age indie is equal parts hilarious, cringey and endearing. It always verges on the right side of sweet, not saccharine. As a central character, Lawrence is, at times, very hard to like. (The guy is wearing a silk cravat to high school, for god’s sake.) He is empathetic and obnoxious; vulnerable and condescending. He is both a high school outsider and every film buff you’ve ever met who thinks that their taste is superior. Socially inept, he is often tugging at his clothes or avoiding eye contact. He is appalled to discover that his work at the video store involves peddling the extended cut of Shrek as opposed to discussing the back catalogue of Paul Thomas Anderson. ‘Liking movies’ is who Lawrence is, but it’s also an easy way of keeping people at arm’s length as he can overwhelm them with release dates, plot lines and scene descriptions.

He’s extremely isolated, with his abrasiveness driving away the one friend he had (Matt, played by Percy Hynes White). Their Saturday Night Live skits really tug at the heartstrings, making Lawrence’s rudeness even more stinging. Lehtinen is absolutely stand out in the role, with Hynes White often reacting to his behaviour the way we, as viewers do. The breakdown of their friendship is very sad and we don’t get any sense of reconciliation being truly on the horizon.

Romina D’Ugo, as Sequel store manager Alana, also delivers a truly compelling performance. She is pithy and quirky, perking up her team for late night stock takes and sales days. Around half way through, D’Ugo is really given the chance to flex with a striking monologue about faded hopes and dreams. She arranges and rearranges the DVDs on the shelves as she reveals a devastating experience of what we presume to be sexual assault. “So, actually, I don’t like movies,” she concluded, wiping away tears, “I hate them.”

I Like Movies Levack manages to keep the script tight and interesting. Big, emotional moments, such as Alana’s reveal or the disclosure that Lawrence’s dad committed suicide are handled very well. There’s no attempt at undercutting either with comedy. Instead, these moments are explored in a way that gives us a much deeper understanding of the characters. The uneasy relationship that Lawrence has with his mum (Krista Bridges) culminates in an emotionally charged dinner whereby mother and son end up screaming nasties at each other with mouths full of food. It feels very authentic, drawing you even further into the world Levack has created for these characters.

I Like Movies is a real treat for those of us who, well, like movies. The plot admirably strides clear of coming-of-age cliches and balances humour and tragedy extremely well. The performances are very strong, with even supporting characters feeling properly fleshed out and identifiable. It feels somewhat nostalgic, without ever becoming cheesy. And, although Lawrence could be quite a polarising character for some, Lehtinen’s performance is incredibly watchable. There’s a warmth to it – perhaps a safety for those of us who, like Lawrence, find respite and escape in the big screen.

It might just become one of your favourites. So you have an answer ready, next time you’re asked.

I Like Movies is up for the Audience Award at the Glasgow Film Festival 2023. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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