I Like Movies - A Nostalgia-Soaked Love Letter to Cinema and Ontario
Shawn Gouralnik, President, Radio FWD
(Photo: TIFF/Chandler Levack)
Directed by: Chandler Levack
Starring: Isaiah Lehtinen, Romina D'Ugo, Krista Bridges, Percy Hynes White, Alex Ateah, Andy McQueen
A movie about movies is nothing new to the theatrical canon. From Kaufman’s Adaptation, wherein the writer inserts himself into a screenplay about writing a screenplay, to Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, an epic love letter to 60s golden era Hollywood, filmmakers love paying homage to others who came before them. Chandler Levack opens I Like Movies with a crudely done remake of A Christmas Carol, filmed on a home video camera by two highschoolers who are actually tasked with directing their school’s year end video. In the subsequent Q&A, Levack opens by admitting this film is almost entirely autobiographical, a deeply intimate and personal foray into feature-length filmmaking that has characters whose entire lives revolve around film-making and, more often than not, film-watching. The main character, Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), feeds his cinephilia by taking on a video-rental store job, where he gets 10 free rentals a week. Throughout the movie, countless other films are name-dropped as punchlines such as Punch Drunk Love, Shrek, and Wild Things. The lighthearted approach to teenage angst and obsession is compounded by plenty of jabs at the film’s setting. Toronto is almost a character itself, featuring notable locations like Lawrence’s local Cineplex and Burlington as a commentary on peak white-suburbia.
Levack ultimately made an autobiographical coming-of-age movie, drawing on her own experiences working in a video rental store, and growing up with self proclaimed “Early-Onset Cinephilia.” However, Levack’s decision to portray a male character in the story was deliberate, specifically stating that, “it’s so interesting that women are being told we can only write female characters if we want to tell a story as a female filmmaker. There’s a really interesting gap in representation: Films about young men that are made by women, where it’s women seeing men maybe from a different angle than they themselves.” This approach becomes obvious in several scenes, where Lawrences’ emotional outbursts are often directed towards the women in his life, including his female manager (Romina D'ugo) and his mother (Krista Bridges). The tender approach to difficult lessons in toxic masculinity and self-actualization is completely unique to the male-dominated canon of youth movies, often driven by a carte-blanche, carpe diem attitude found in the worlds of Almost Famous or Dazed and Confused. Levack’s lesson, to listen to the people around you with interest, sticks out like a new copy of Shrek 2 in the romance aisle in the world of coming of age films.
I Like Movies is a gentle and nostalgic love letter to youth-obsession and filmmaking. However, it relies on its audience’s full cooperation with name-drops as punchlines. I don’t know a better setting than TIFF for the debut of a film about film, set in Ontario, but I also don’t know who else will enjoy the movie besides that very specific audience. Sure, the lessons regarding a male teenager growing up to be conscious of the people around him, and to internalize his own trauma as a teaching-tool are impactful; but the film relies heavily on the viewer to be just like Lawrence to internalize the lessons themselves. Maybe the film wasn’t meant to be watched by everyone in the first place, that isn’t the case for most movies anyways. But, it does become a bit of a drag to softly exhale through the nose at the 8th film reference which doesn’t go beyond saying the name of the movie.
Either way, the film was almost certainly for me, and Lawrence’s struggles with fitting in and finding it hard to find someone that will listen to an info-dump was very touching. Levack has amazing talent behind the camera, and many of the relatively boring settings (video store, parking lot) were beautifully shot in the old school aspect ratio the film is set at. I liked I Like Movies, and it definitely made me like movies more, too.