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TIFF 2022 Review: I Like Movies – “A warm nostalgic hug”

Courtesy of TIFF

Movies serve as an escape.  The best ones transport us away from the every day where for a couple of hours we can revel in romance or adventure, get swept up in drama or even taken to a completely different universe.  In writer-director Chandler Levack’s feature debut, I Like Movies, she seamlessly transports us back to the early 2000s when teenaged Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen) makes film his whole world, and where it becomes increasingly obvious that his obsession is all about survival.   

I Like Movies takes place in Burlington, a city that many only drive through on the way to Niagara Falls from Toronto, but where Levack grew up and where Lawrence is on the brink of graduating high school.  He spends most of his time with his only friend Matt Macarchuk (Percy Hynes White), whom he works with on student films, or hangs out at self-proclaimed “Rejects Night” where they watch Saturday Night Live, sometimes alongside Lawrence’s mother (Krista Bridges) whom he seems to barely tolerate.  She just doesn’t understand him, or his desire to go to NYU film school.  

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To Lawrence, as self-obsessed as he is movie obsessed, his future is crystal clear.  Soon, he will leave all of Burlington in his dust, including his ‘placeholder’ of a friend, be mentored by Todd Solondz who will marvel at his talents and make his mark as a filmmaker.  To help fund the tens of thousands of dollars of tuition, Lawrence gets a part-time job at his local video store, Sequels.  After all, if he can make big bank at the store and redeem his ten free rentals a week he will be on his way!  However as Lawrence’s narcissistic nature threatens his only close relationships, he forms a new bond with his boss, Alana (Romina D’Ugo) who might just be able to bring him back down to Earth.

I Like Movies is that special film that manages to blend its comedy with more serious undertones and does it all in this warm nostalgic hug.  Those that were teens in Canada (and especially Ontario) during the late 90s or early 2000s are going to find a lot to love in the way Levack re-creates the era.  There are mentions of Big Shiny Tunes, the “Cashman” on TV, Chantal Kreviazuk merchandise worn and of course plenty of film references including a hilarious running joke involving the 1998 film Wild Things.  I Like Movies is unapologetically and quintessentially Canadian and I respect its relatable authenticity.  Though I will need to someday ask Levack about her seeming dislike for the University of Guelph, my alma mater.  

However, even if you aren’t Canadian, there’s still a lot to connect with in this movie.  Levack creates this self-centred, egotistical protagonist in Lawrence yet still leaves him vulnerable enough to make him endearing.  This is, no doubt, assisted in Isaiah Lehtinen’s excellent performance, but when his character eventually does start to unravel you realize the delicate balance Levack had to navigate to make the audience still care.  Her writing goes the distance here, yet her choices as a director from the more intimate aspect ratio to some of the scene framing (especially when D’Ugo has her largest monologue) highlight her obvious talents behind the camera.  

I Like Movies certainly does highlight a clear love of cinema from the new and exciting voice of Chandler Levack.  Yet as much as Lawrence has the industry on a pedestal,  it never sugarcoats the harsh realities of filmmaking.  Movies can make dreams come true, but also can break them.  But that’s not all that I Like Movies is all about.  Because while movies are an escape, they are just that.  Eventually, reality comes crashing back in as soon as the screen goes dark.  It’s therefore important not to lose ourselves, to take care of our own emotional health, to connect to the family and friends around us that keep us grounded.  That is what I Like Movies really drives home.  And for that, and so many reasons, I like THIS movie an awful lot. 


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