The HoloFiles

REVIEW: I Like Movies

By George & Josh Bate

I Like Movies review

If you’re of a certain age, there’s a good chance that trips to a video rental store are seminal memories. Before the age of streaming services and readily available films and television at one’s fingertips, nothing quite compared to the feeling of visiting a Family Video or Blockbuster on a Friday or Saturday night and selecting a movie to watch with loved ones. To capture the essence of the past is often an insurmountable task for a filmmaker, but director/writer Chandler Levack stunningly and authentically taps into the nostalgia and emotions associated with that era of picking movies out of a video store in her film I Like Movies.

Originally premiering at Toronto International Film Festival and soon to have worldwide distribution by Visit Films, I Like Movies is a powerful, intimate, and hilarious film from Chandler Levack in her feature directorial debut. The film follows Lawrence (played by Isaiah Lehtinen), a socially awkward 17-year-old who loves movies more than anything. As he aspires to study film at NYU, Lawrence gets a job at a video store, where he develops a friendship with his older female manager, while also dealing with the ups and downs of a high school friendship and a complicated relationship with his mother.

I Like Movies is a love letter, not to movies necessarily, but to the movie lover. To the cinephile. The film buff. It’s a movie about a person who adores movies. Whose core interest is cinema to such an extent that it’s a feature of their personality. Writer/director Levack focuses her film on such a character and excels in every department.

I Like Movies review

A total triumph of slice-of-life filmmaking, I Like Movies is disinterested in intricate or heightened storytelling, instead focusing on what life for 17-year-old Lawrence looks like. Lawrence and his best friend Matt (played by Percy Hynes White) crown Saturdays as ‘Rejects Night,’ a night in which the two sit at home and watch Saturday Night Live while many teens of the same age are out partying and drinking. Lawrence could care less about high school as his sights are firmly on getting into NYU’s film school. In the meantime, he secures a job at the local video store, which is essentially a second home to him already considering the amount of movies he rents from there. There, he develops a bond with Alana (played by Romina D’Ugo), the manager of the video store who takes a liking to the usually rejected and socially inept Lawrence.

The entirety of the film follows several months in Lawrence’s life as he navigates his interests and faces challenges. In Lawrence, writer Levack has crafted a different kind of main character, one that has the potential to lose the audience. That’s because Lawrence isn’t particularly likable. When his friend Matt brings up the idea of going to NYU with Lawrence, Lawrence shuts this idea down and says he believes Matt is a placeholder friend before he meets his ‘real’ friends at college. Lawrence refuses to accept help on the school’s end of year video from Lauren P (played by Eden Cupid), a sweet classmate who even goes out of her way to get him a Wendy’s frosty. He’s also quite rude to his caring single mother. And, perhaps most egregiously, Lawrence says that Shrek isn’t real cinema. 

Levack risks alienating the audience with a character as initially disagreeable, inept, and self-centered as Lawrence, and yet crafting such a character ends up being a stroke of genius. Lawrence is meant to be off-putting at first, as this is how he is perceived by virtually everyone he meets. His directness and overbearing love for cinema come at a cost of social deftness, and he is introduced as a decidedly unpleasant character. But that’s the point. As the film progresses and aspects of Lawrence’s character are revealed and developed, incredible nuance is added to the character, ultimately making him one of the most authentic and grounded characters across cinema in recent years. 

I Like Movies review

Although Lawrence firmly sits at the heart of this story, the film shines with its focus on less central characters, none more so than Romina D’Ugo’s Alana. As Lawrence’s boss at the video store, Alana takes a liking to the awkward teenager and makes him feel welcomed like few have. Similar to Lawrence, aspects of Alana’s character are revealed and developed over the course of the film, ultimately culminating in a jaw-dropping monologue from D’Ugo in the film’s final act. D’Ugo is simply superb as she portrays a character with incredible warmth and pain. 

In the film, Lawrence comments that the highest compliment one can give a movie is to be emotionally moved by it. If that is indeed the gold standard of compliments, then I Like Movies deserves immense praise. Levack’s film doesn’t overwhelm with emotion nor is it trying to be a This Is Us-esque tearjerker. More than anything, I Like Movies is a coming-of-age comedy, filled to the brim with witty lines destined to make audiences laugh. But underlying the film is an extraordinary heart that gradually increases its rhythm throughout the film until it really begins to beat in the third act. It’s a film that explores so many themes, some of which have been tackled in other works, but seldom with such emotional intelligence. It’s a film that shows how unachieved dreams aren’t the end of the world. How some friendships don’t last forever. And how there’s always more to a person when people take the time to look.

Also a success is I Like Movies’ period setting (admittedly, it’s strange to call a movie set in 2003 a period piece, but technically it is). Levack’s film is steeped in late 1990s/early 2000s nostalgia and perfectly captures the era of video rentals in which movie buffs were eager to get their hands on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love and watch the likes of 8 Mile and Die Another Day in theaters. There’s a timelessness to the universal applicability of I Like Movies’ themes, but the film is very much grounded in a specific era, doing so with amazing authenticity.

I Like Movies review

VERDICT: 9.5/10

I Like Movies is a resounding success of a coming-of-age dramedy. Writer/director Chandler Levack becomes an emerging filmmaker to look out for with a powerful, intimate, and hilarious feature directorial debut. A love letter to cinephiles/film buffs, I Like Movies is a total triumph of slice-of-life filmmaking featuring strong lead performances from Isaiah Lehtinen and Romina D’Ugo. For those who have fond memories of looking for movies at video rental stores, I Like Movies evokes the emotions and nostalgia of an era now several decades old, but one that still remains present in our hearts. A phenomenal film from start to finish, I Like Movies is a perfect example of why movies are just so good.

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