Directed by: Chandler Levack
Distributed by: Mongrel Media
Written by Anna Harrison
I like movies. So does Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen), the teenager at the center of Chandler Levack’s feature debut, “I Like Movies.” Lawrence is a senior in high school, and a film buff with his sights set on NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts—most especially learning about their 16mm camera—because he doesn’t want to become a nobody “Canadian filmmaker.” The whims of his fellow high schoolers are beneath him, and he’d rather watch “Goodfellas” than jerk off—but, like so many starry-eyed teenagers, his dreams are a bit far from reality, and his head is a bit too big for his shoulders.
In a charmingly futile attempt to earn the $90,000 needed to attend NYU, Lawrence begins working at the local video store, Sequels, whose existence is one of the many clues letting you know that this movie takes place in 2003, not 2023 (other signs include colorful eyeshadow and huge jorts, though Gen Z’s nostalgia for the early 2000s seems to be resurrecting the latter of those relics, to everyone’s chagrin). There, he forms a connection with the manager, Alana (Romina D’Ugo), even if his complaints about having to sell movies he doesn’t like—notably “Shrek”—get some eyerolls. In today’s parlance, Lawrence would be a “filmbro,” and he certainly has his obnoxious moments: he yells at his single mom (Krista Bridges), he tells his friend Matt (Percy Hynes White) that he’s only a “placeholder” friend until they go off to college, and the praise he showers on Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” is understandable but also terribly, terribly pretentious.
It’s a testament to Levack’s writing and directing, as well as Lehtinen’s performance, that they both manage to find the humanity in Lawrence, who could easily come off as a one-note annoying teenage boy. But there’s something endearing in Lawrence, and the scars that his father’s suicide four years ago left are clearly visible: allusions to depression, a rift with his mother, and a panic attack in the Sequels break room that just about breaks your heart. Lawrence holds back from fully experiencing his life, because he doesn’t think that life will start until college; he doesn’t realize—or doesn’t want to realize—that by holding college (or any sort of future life event, for that matter) so high aloft, he’s hamstringing himself from what’s around him. He looks towards the future to avoid thinking about both past and present until it catches up with him in that break room, and damn if you don’t just want to give that insufferable kid a hug. It’s a fine needle to thread, but Lehtinen and Levack make it look easy.
D’Ugo’s Alana also manages to be more than just the hot woman the teenage boy crushes on, and though her own (admittedly well-acted) scene about a #MeToo moment before #MeToo was even a thought feels sudden and perhaps out of place—or maybe too calibrated to 2023—but gives Lawrence a needed call to reality, and D’Ugo performs it so well that its flaws can be overlooked somewhat. Besides, “I Like Movies” is one of those films where you can’t help but be charmed even by the less effective moments: the visible tiny budget, the homages to other movies, the reminder of just how big everything feels in high school all come together to make a movie bursting with heart, though one that stays grounded in reality enough to avoid becoming cloying, and as a debut, it’s impressive, assured, and promises bigger things for Levack and Lehtinen both. To put it simply: I like “I Like Movies.”
“I Like Movies” Trailer