The older we get the more aware we are of the passage of time and the importance of being present. But when you’re in Grade 12, the world is at your feet and you’re just waiting for your real life to begin. In her feature debut, Canadian director and writer Chandler Levack taps into this impatience in the touching coming-of-age story I Like Movies.
Newcomer Isaiah Lehtinen is Lawrence Kweller, an obnoxious movie-lover who can’t wait to leave Burlington, Ontario behind for greener pastures—in his case, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in New York. Lawrence aspires to be a director and is, let’s face it, insufferable to his mother (Krista Bridges) and a pill when it comes to his cinephile ways, belittling his only friend Matt Macarchuk (Percy Hynes White) for his movie choices and having a general distaste for all those he believes to hold lesser than movie opinions. To help pay for tuition, Lawrence gets a job at the local video rental store and befriends his manager, Alana (a wonderfully affecting Romina D’Ugo).
Through his odd-couple (and very cringe) friendship with Alana, we begin to chip away at Lawrence’s pseudo-confident exterior revealing an anxious and vulnerable teenager. It’s here that I Like Movies transforms from a coming-of-age comedy about an overcompensating film brat into a beautifully raw and honest examination of adolescence’s challenges.
Levack’s script, possibly due in large part to the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, touches so genuinely on the loneliness and confusion associated with the utter desperation of self-discovery. The restlessness of youth is exhibited brilliantly in Lawrence — a young man who just wants to know who he is and how he fits into this world so he can get on with it.
Lehtinen is perfectly cast as Lawrence. He leans into the arrogance of the character just enough for us to feel that texture of the teen but backs off before turning audiences off completely. Just as Levack’s script wholly encompasses the strife of a teenager, Lehtinen brings those complexities to life in a well-rounded performance that leaves audiences wanting to smack him one minute and embrace him in a giant hug the next.
While based loosely on her own life, Levack’s gender swap proves to be a fascinating element of the film. Though a young man is the focus, the fact that the film is being told through a female lens is felt throughout. Even more interesting is the new perspective gained from the 2003 setting — suddenly that budding film bro doesn’t seem so precocious. I Like Movies is deceptive in that sense; on the surface, it may appear to be a typical endearing coming-of-age tale steeped in early-2000s nostalgia. But there’s a compelling narrative under the formula that highlights the exciting talent of a new filmmaker.
Perhaps the greatest gift I Like Movies gives audiences is its ability to transform with us as we age. To watch a film like this as a teenager will undoubtedly feel relatable and — if I may evoke the language of the youth — make one feel seen. As a 30-something watching I Like Movies, there’s a sense of pity painted onto Lawrence. We were all that teenager who thought we knew everything and only with age do we understand that we actually know very little and understand even less.
I Like Movies provides us with a time machine back to when the world was at our fingertips and every possibility and path was equal parts exciting and overwhelming. Worst case, our dreams never came to fruition and we peaked in high school; best case, our dreams came true, and then we were faced with the existential dread of having to actually follow through. Either way, we were scared shitless, whether we wanted to admit it or not.