I Like Movies (2022)
Director: Chandler Levack
Screenwriter: Chandler Levack
Starring: Isaiah Lehtinen, Romina D’Ugo, Krista Bridges, Percy Hynes White
For those of us longing for the days of wandering the aisles of video stores, admiring the artwork on the boxes and talking movies with the staff, finally the picture for us has come in Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies, a coming-of-age drama about a socially inept cinephile who gets a job at a video rental store. Making the rounds at film festivals all over the world and critically acclaimed wherever it goes, I Like Movies finally landed at the Glasgow Film Festival this March.
Though one would maybe come to expect a movie set in an early 2000s video rental store to be more along the lines of Clerks, High Fidelity or Empire Records, I Like Movies is more like Lady Bird for incels.
The picture opens with a short film made by its protagonist Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) and his best friend Matt Macarchuck (Percy Hynes White), a parody of the Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol“. Shot in a 4:3 ratio, the home video shows the two friends’ Saturday night tradition of “rejects night”. The video is filled to the brim with cheesy editing, cringe humour and an abundance of early-2000s references such as the “Oh, ah, ah, ah, ah” from Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness“.
Things are quickly interrupted – though the 4:3 ratio remains – when it is revealed that the movie was an assignment for their media class. Whereas Matt is clearly embarrassed, Lawrence defends their work as a passion project. Though it isn’t as funny or as grabbing as it could be, it is an opening to the film that swiftly introduces us to the main characters and themes: Lawrence is a self-righteous, wannabe filmmaker with a questionable sense of fashion who doesn’t think anyone could ever like movies as much as him, and his best friend Matt isn’t quite sure what he wants out of life so simply follows Lawrence’s lead.
It is upon the character of Lawrence – and specifically upon his troubling view of himself and his passion – that the film rests. Throughout I Like Movies, Lawrence’s passion for cinema is clear but his lack of appreciation and recognition for any female filmmakers seems blatantly obvious. Whilst Lawrence loves the films of Paul Thomas Anderson and Stanley Kubrick, you wouldn’t be so sure that he has any idea who Agnès Varda is. It is through smaller details like this that we can see where Lawrence’s entitlement as a male film fan comes from; he simply rejects the idea that fellow student Lauren knows anything about filmmaking.
Right off the bat it is clear that Lawrence is a character filled with privilege and narcissism, but it’s pushed hard in the first thirty minutes, showing him throwing tantrums to his mother, refusing to promote Shrek at the video rental store because he wants to talk about “real cinema”, and telling his best friend that he is simply a placeholder for him until he goes to college and makes new friends. Though it runs the risk of creating an irredeemable lead and turning some audience members off, screenwriter-director Chandler Levack clearly knows what she is doing.
In showing the lack of any backlash for his actions, the screenplay gives us an idea of not only why Lawrence has acted this way for so long but why he continues to do so. Once he gets the job at the video store, Sequels Video, and as more characters are introduced, Lawrence finally receives some push back for his attitude and we begin to understand him and those around him much better.
Perhaps the greatest of these characters is Alana (Romina D’Ugo), the store manager for Sequels Video and essentially Lawrence’s counterpart. Just as she is the first person that Lawrence seems to truly listen to, Alana is also the first person to really push back against Lawrence’s attitude. D’ugo is simply fantastic. The character is written incredibly well, essentially the polar opposite to Lawrence whilst also being the most similar to him, but it is what D’ugo offers that truly brings Alana to life, crafting an elegant performance in which she can tell us all we need to know with a single look. It is a powerhouse performance which raises the quality of the film to greater heights and culminates in the movie’s best scene, a fantastic monologue in the video store after hours.
Isaiah Lehtinen is equally as brilliant as Lawrence. In spite of the complexities of the role, Lehtinen is perfectly cast and never seems unsure or uncomfortable in what he is doing. Although Levack is constantly toeing the line between liking or hating Lawrence, Lehtinen brings a certain charisma and charm to the role that, even in Lawrence’s worst moments, allow us to see deeper into the character and see him as much more than just a film bro.
I Like Movies is a challenging film; one that requires patience from its audience and in turn grants them a terrific character study. Its roots as a coming-of-age tale allow for a script that is well paced, enjoyable, and very funny: “Your biggest emotional wound is people not wanting to watch Stanley Kubrick movies with you in high school.”
With I Like Movies, Chandler Levack cleverly takes the familiar coming-of-age formula, gives it a pinch of nostalgia and a dash of movie references (to the likes of Full Metal Jacket), and displays a clear understanding of theme and character. I Like Movies is fresh, enjoyable, and engaging.
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