I Like Movies Review – If You Like Movies, then You’ll Love Chandler Levack’s Debut Feature

I Like Movies screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on July 12 and 14.

For Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) the protagonist of Chandler Levack’s debut feature I Like Movies the title is somewhat of an understatement. Lonely boy and teen cinephile, Lawrence doesn’t just like movies, they’re basically a substitute for a personality. Not that Lawrence is without a personality, he’s got one, he just doesn’t have a particularly good one. Living with clear depression, anxiety, and trichotillomania; there is a sense that we should feel sorry for Lawrence, and to an extent we do, but we also know that despite where his antisocial behaviour is coming from, he’s still a dick.

It is 2003 and Lawrence is seventeen and living in a suburb outside of Toronto. His best, and only, friend Matt (Percy Hynes White) make movies together when not watching SNL in his mother’s living room/Lawrence’s bedroom. A video they make for a media class is supposed to be a spin on ‘A Christmas Carol’ but doesn’t address the assigned topic which is bias in the media. Lawrence isn’t interested in that topic he wants to make something meaningful and is upset that his teacher Mr. Olenick (Anand Rajaram) doesn’t allow the full piece to play showing the outtakes and blooper reel. Everything that comes out of Lawrence’s mouth screams ‘pretentious jerk’ including his insistence that he is still working out conceptual kinks on the end of year school film project, to the much nastier rejection of Matt’s ability to understand the new Adam Sandler film because it is Paul Thomas Anderson. Compounding that, he tells Matt that he’s a placeholder friend until he gets to college – in Lawrence’s estimation he’s going to film school at Tisch in NYC.

What keeps Matt around is probably a sense of duty to his probably at that stage life-long friend. Lawrence smells that Matt is gaining an interest in the actually talented and interesting Lauren P. (Eden Cupid) and becomes so venomous and sexist that Matt has little choice but to gradually move away from the friendship. In some ways this is exactly what Lawrence wants – if he rejects first, he can’t be rejected. It’s also coming from a place of deep trauma with his father’s suicide, a trauma he hasn’t reconciled but uses for sympathy. His mother, Terri (Krista Bridges) has run out of patience for her son and his selfish demeanour and they butt heads continuously. Lawrence is running out of places to go (he assumes he will be gone soon enough to Tisch) but finds an accidental home in Sequels Video store where he applies for a job and soon has a crush on the manager Alana (Romina D’Ugo).

I Like Movies starts out as an acidic comedy and coming of age story, but Chandler Levack has more to give than just a look into the life of an unlikeable teen protagonist whose filmic knowledge is a background for a great number of gags. The film will tickle the nostalgia bone of anyone who was around in that era and did spend probably too long trying to decide which ten films to rent for the weekend. It probably speaks to anyone who writes film reviews (thanks, Chandler), and certainly we’ve all known a Lawrence of some stripe, although his obsession may not have been cinema. The depth of the relatability for the audience is overpowering in places, but it’s when the film moves out of the formula that Levack sets up it gets really interesting.

Once Lawrence in on the outs with Matt and Lauren (who have taken over the end of year project) the film leaves high school to the side and spends its time developing the relationship between Alana and Lawrence. Alana has been in the film industry and has come back from L.A. a different and disappointed person. She initially finds Lawrence annoying but somewhat charming in his passion. The dynamic between them is a kind of inverse Ghost World – entirely platonic on Alana’s side and increasingly embittered on Lawrence’s. The video store shenanigans are a lot of fun – from Lawrence refusing to sell Shrek 2 because it’s not cinema, to him in detail recommending Todd Solondz’s Happiness to a couple. His video store compatriots Shannon (Alex Ateah) and Brendan (Andy McQueen) know what kind of job they have. Brendan is there because he needs to work. Shannon doesn’t really know anything about movies but is happy to have a cool boss.

Lawrence eventually hectors Alana into revealing something traumatic about herself. She tells him “I don’t like movies,” and when she explains why the story is all too familiar for young women who followed their dreams out to Hollywood. Lawrence’s inability to properly empathise or relate is a statement from Levack on the patriarchal nature of cinephilia. Certain young men who think they’re going to be directors don’t care how the omelette is made outside the technical and auteurist practices of the director. In 2003 there was Weinstein (and so many others), just nobody was going to speak about it. In a crucial moment Alana says to Lawrence “I really want your approval I really want you to think I’m cool and that’s the saddest thing I can imagine,” in another “The world is made for nerds like you. Your deepest wound is that no one wanted to watch Stanley Kubrick movies with you in high school.”

Of course that’s not Lawrence’s deepest wound. Nor is Lawrence’s approval really what Alana wants. Levack does acknowledge that with trauma comes a certain misunderstanding of basic needs and spends the remainder of the film investigating the concept.

Truly excellent performances by Isaiah Lehtinen in his feature debut and Romina D’Ugo manage to paper over some of Levack’s small filmmaking errors, and Levack’s script is for the most part watertight. The ending may seem a little pat, but does anyone really want both Lawrence and Alana to suffer indefinitely? I Like Movies is a vivid debut by Chandler Levack who manages to capture both the spirit of indie filmmaking and the zeitgeist of the era and place (name any outer suburb of a big Western metropolis and it could be set there). It’s bittersweet, funny, sad, and ultimately kind. You’d be a curmudgeon to not like this movie.

Director: Chandler Levack

Cast: Isaiah Lehtinen, Dan Beirne, Krista Bridges

Writer: Chandler Levack

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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