TIFF22 REVIEW: I Like Movies [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 99 minutes
    Release Date: 2022 (Canada)
    Director(s): Chandler Levack
    Writer(s): Chandler Levack

The medium is the homework.

Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) likes movies. Not in the putting a film on in the background while hanging with friends sense. I mean recommending ‘s Happiness to a pregnant couple looking for a romantic comedy. He drags his best friend Matt Macarchuck (Percy Hynes White) to see because they both love watching “Saturday Night Live” together and laughs about intentionally duping him into seeing a Paul Thomas Anderson film he’ll probably hate. So, while Lawrence tells himself that he “likes” movies, he actually likes being able to lord his knowledge of the medium over those he reductively deems unworthy of his cultured taste. He’s a raging narcissist, a bully, and an emotional wreck who cannot handle rejection. And he’s realizing he’s never been in control.

It’s simply how he copes with conflict. When bad things occur, Lawrence retreats to his happy place of cinematic escapism. And because he knows all the self-indulgent details about every “great film” and underseen classic, he’s able to fake confidence by leaning his entire identity on this one thing that nobody else around him cares about enough to challenge his opinions. That sense of superiority then bleeds into his regular life until he’s alienating everybody that won’t bow to his altar of choice. Matt sticks around because of loyalty to the person Lawrence was—funny and self-deprecating. We see glimpses of him when they fool around with comedy improv, but it’s only a second before the ego returns with a viciously unapologetic tongue. He attacks to avoid vulnerability.

Rather than create this character to mock him, writer/director Chandler Levack brings Lawrence to life in I Like Movies so that she can portray the root of the problem. She could have picked any other hobby or interest and still gotten to the heart of why teenagers wield these isolating defense mechanisms as a means of protecting themselves from ever being wrong. Because the thing that really scares Lawrence is the silence of uncertainty—that moment when he has nothing to deflect from the feelings that are slowly but surely rising towards a breaking point of uncontrollable panic. If he can steer conversations towards film, he can ensure that he doesn’t give anyone time to breathe. That way he never has to cultivate a personality of his own.

And it’s not entirely his fault. Lawrence has endured a lot in his young life. Suicide. Poverty. Ridicule. He’s had to find something to grab ahold of and numb the pain of everything else. Because this isn’t the life he wants. This sorrow and lack of opportunity. He wants to get out of Burlington, Ontario and attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He wants the chance to reinvent himself by literally closing this tragic chapter of his life in order to open a new one unburdened by that past. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. It’s what we all hope to do after graduating high school. Lawrence is just so focused on that uncertain (and let’s face it, unrealistic) future that he openly neglects the present.

The result is sometimes difficult to watch because Levack cuts straight to the heart and refuses to let her characters avoid authenticity for mainstream rounded edges. If Lawrence and his mother (Krista Bridges) get into a heated argument, it will end with them saying things they will regret. If his often-ludicrous actions at school lead to obvious consequences that his one-track mind cannot fathom due to his inability to pay attention to the world crumbling around him, his body will have no choice but to shut down. It leads to some intensely candid exchanges with his boss (Romina D’Ugo‘s Alana, who’s still dealing with her own fair share of trauma) that may surprise you with just how honest they get. They’re fit to burst without a safety net.

That’s where I Like Movies truly captivates. Yes, the period specific nature of working in a video store circa 2002 is on point and the fun Levack has giving her characters a favorite movie for the “employee picks’ shelf is wonderfully pure, but her film isn’t about fandom or obsession. It’s about the masks we wear to hide the pain we feel. Lawrence and Alana have that compulsion to reinvent themselves so they can hide their insecurities and shame from the world. They push people away, adopt over-the-top personas, and grow scared or angry when the façade slips. And instead of helping each other by being a shoulder to lean on, they prove how truth is always more powerful than platitudes. They need a kick in the pants.

Don’t get me wrong. They need the platitudes too. Yet the combination of both—to really force them to confront the lies they’ve been telling themselves—is what puts them over the edge. It’s not an easy line to toe either. Each of these roles must juggle the complexity of being empathetic and cruel. Not out of spite or malice, but a cruelty born from frustration and self-loathing that ultimately becomes about self-worth. Lawrence can be as apologetic as he needs to be (and is), but that doesn’t mean Matt, Alana, or anyone else must forgive him or like him even if they do. They shouldn’t have to do anything that undermines their own happiness. And he’s only learned something when he’s able to understand why.

Give Levack all the credit for finding that tonal sweet spot for laughter and pathos. Give it to the actors too for having the range to be loathsome one moment and deserving of our undivided compassion the next. Lehtinen is very good in the lead role. The way his entitlement is gradually whittled away to become desperation is unmatched. And D’Ugo provides him the perfect foil made so much better by not having a male filmmaker to potentially turn her character into a romantic infatuation rather than a kindred spirit. When her Alana gets on a roll, you would be forgiven for thinking this was her movie. It’s the only time Lawrence truly listens, even if he’s not yet mature enough to avoid centering himself in her torment.

courtesy of TIFF

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