I Like Movies (2023)

Director: Chandler Levack

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Starring: Isaiah Lehtinen, Romina D'Ugo, Krista Bridges, Percy Hynes White, Alex Ateah, Andy McQueen, Eden Cupid, Dan Beirne

Based on her own experiences in early 2000s Canada, writer/director Chandler Levack makes her feature debut following seventeen-year-old film bro Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen). Opening the film is Rejects Night, a low-budget film which blends references to Cribs, Lazy Sunday, and A Christmas Carol to promote an inside joke between the lead and his best friend, Matt (Percy Hynes White). Considering they were meant to make a school essay about media bias, their creation does not go down well in class.

Obsessed with films, Lawrence is someone who admits that he does not enjoy masturbation because he would rather watch Goodfellas instead. He feels at home in his local video rental store, Sequels, a place where he helps a pregnant couple looking for a comedy film by recommending Todd Solondz's Happiness. It's moments like this which highlights what a joyously cine-literate film Levack has crafted, the kind which sees Lawrence forced to choose between two films to rent, with one option cheekily being Sophie's Choice.

It becomes a dream come true for Lawrence when he gets a job at Sequels, making the most of its rental policy while saving money for university. There is an endearing goofiness with his workplace friends, bringing alive the wonderful humour within this feature. Lawrence also has a crush on his boss, Alana (Romina D'Ugo), who is a contrast to the lead regarding her feelings on movies. The source of what soured her is delivered in a powerful monologue about a past experience, an exceptional moment that D'Ugo tremendously sells.

Tensions linger between Lawrence and his mother, Terri (Krista Bridges), as they grapple with trauma while struggling with their lives. The recurring topic they argue over is university, as the lead longs to attend New York University where his favourite filmmakers went, while his mother repeatedly brings up affordable Canadian universities in the hopes he will have a good life without debt. There is a clear love between this duo, although their clashes become a symptom of struggles to communicate, with frustrations growing as Lawrence realizes how little his job actually pays.

There's a sense of art snobbery in the lead as he does not consider Shrek to be real cinema, while developing an obsession with Punch-Drunk Love. As he gushes over the film's craft after watching it, Matt is less interested in it. Lawrence is aware that his long-time friend does not share a fierce love for films, and uses it as the basis for openly envisioning a future where they part ways. The inconsideration of his friend leads the theoretical to become reality as they grow apart, with the death blow being the cancellation of Matt's video rental account.

As he struggles to cope with life not turning out how he envisioned, the crushing reality forces Lawrence onto a path of self-discovery which is touchingly depicted. Lehtinen magnificently captures the character's journey across the runtime, with a standout moment being when he watches the end-of-year film that he was ousted from making. All these experiences leave Lawrence worrying about whether people will like him, and the ending shows a brighter future is possible as he puts what the lessons learned into action. What remains is a heartfelt and humorous work that wears its love for cinema on its sleeve.