Review by Sean Boelman
It has become the hot thing for major filmmakers to make a film exploring their childhood and how they came to love the cinema, but sometimes, the indie filmmaker’s version of it is even better. That is the case with Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies, a funny, awkward coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the childhood of a certain age group of cinephiles.
The film follows a young cinephile/aspiring filmmaker who takes a job at a video store during his senior year of high school. Most cinephiles likely had this experience or something similar — be it working in a video store or movie theater — so this film is certainly going to be very nostalgic for those who are fond of movies.
Admittedly, it would have been nice had the references in the film not been so surface-level. When a character’s definition of a niche filmmaker is Paul Thomas Anderson (post-Boogie Nights), it’s clear that the film is weighed back by its desire to appeal to the masses. Granted, video stores weren’t exactly littered with copies of films by international masters like Bela Tarr or John Woo, but it would have been nice to see the characters talk about the few films that did manage to break this barrier.
Nevertheless, Levack infuses her film with an excellent sense of humor that will have cinephiles rolling in their seats. The comedy is probably best comparable to something like Lady Bird, because the protagonist is constantly finding himself in awkward positions that leave the audience feeling uncomfortable but still have them laughing.
Isaiah Lehtinen’s performance in the leading role is quite exceptional, especially given the character he has to play. The character is (purposefully) written in a way that is pretty annoying and unsympathetic at times, but Lehtinen has such a natural charm that it’s kind of hard to hate the character. Even when he’s making frustrating choices, the audience will be endeared to him, which is precisely what the film needed to succeed
Romina D’Ugo is in a similar position in her supporting role. The character does some things that are pretty hard to like at times, but D’Ugo’s performance ensures that they come across as the character being humanly flawed, not that she is a bad person. She also gets one scene that is absolutely devastating, giving the film an even deeper level of emotional resonance.
It’s pretty odd to describe a film that happened in the early 2000s as a period piece, but at this point, that’s over twenty years ago. Levack does an exceptional job of capturing the era in a way that is nostalgic without ever feeling overly cloying. It’s awesome to see these relics of the not-too-distant-past recreated in all of their glory.
I Like Movies is just the perfect storm of nostalgia, great performances, and solid writing to make it a must-see film for any cinephile. Although it could have spared to be a bit more in-depth at times, there is still plenty here that is absolutely astonishing work.
I Like Movies screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.