A Film Bro Chafes in the Charming Coming-of-Age I Like Movies

Movies Reviews Chandler Levack
A Film Bro Chafes in the Charming Coming-of-Age I Like Movies

Too many movies are afraid to show us a complete wretch. Not I Like Movies. Unclogged from the gnarliest pre-Letterboxd outcast-to-film-bro pipeline comes the delightfully unpleasant Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), a high school cinephile who is repertory theater B.O. personified. Writer/director Chandler Levack finds uncommon honesty in this Canadian video store employee and those he chafes against, even if the coming-of-age story eventually falls into some of the more palatable pitfalls its strident star would rail against.

Lawrence is a mewling movie snob, of the kind now so parodied to death that handsome TikTok stars with perfect teeth use them as stock characters. But Levack imbues I Like Movies with a dignified unlikability—a confidently written and performed character who’s a little jerk to his single mom (Krista Bridges) and an emotional leech draining his manager at Sequels, Alana (Romina D’Ugo). It’s realistic, unflattering and too true to life to be anything but personal. It’s perversely satisfying to see a teen who’s not mean in clever, screenwriterly ways, but just mean. Lehtinen leans fully into Lawrence’s disdain for others. He’s fed up, impatient, his eyes greedy for the next moment where, maybe, he or his interests will become the center of attention. He rips off acidic lines without a second thought, a hormone-addled bull critiquing the glaze choices in life’s china shop. It’s a great performance, tightly roped in by Levack’s direction. By focusing on how deeply condescending this “aspiring filmmaker” (who’s broke, and certainly not getting into NYU) truly is, Levack allows her charming film’s pain to seep out naturally over time.

And sure, a self-obsessed, high-and-mighty slacker inflicting himself upon the world around him isn’t new territory. It’s also not inherently fun to watch. But though I Like Movies builds itself on a familiar friction, its ornaments make it go down smooth. Lawrence’s obsession with Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick and Todd Solondz is a stereotype, but not a false one and not one that leans on simple observations of male myopia. Levack makes this monolingual way of interacting with the world funny by speaking its language, especially in endearingly silly workplace scenes: A vanilla couple get Solondz’s pedophile-centering Happiness recommended as a date night comedy, while Lawrence must choose only one film to rent from a pile that includes Sophie’s Choice. These are little gags in a little movie; I Like Movies prioritizes texture and warmth over belly laughs.

But even its small chuckles are more meaningful because they feel like logical progressions from Lawrence’s shot-on-a-weekend student film that opens I Like Movies. As much as we dislike him (and, if we ever hid ourselves behind bravado and self-importance, cringe at how recognizable he is), we start to think like him—and to see the imprisoning suburbs of ‘00s Ontario through his eyes. The Dears’ Murray Lightburn scores the film with pop-punk MySpace riffs while Lawrence and his (only) friend Matt (Percy Hynes White) schedule their weekends around heckling Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live. Parking lots are desolate and cold, high school a time-suck. Home only feels alive when the TV’s on, and you can only truly relax when the lights go down in the theater. The posturing goes away, and it’s just you, Adam Sandler and a bucket of popcorn.

Once you leave the multiplex, the dissatisfaction hits like sunlight. The film’s pulled-taut characters walk around wearing armor made of irony, each waiting for someone or something to hit the release valve and let their panic attack or furious monologue escape. When Lawrence finally breaks down, or when Alana steals the movie with a long late-night revelation, or when Matt snaps at the little shit he’s been hanging around with, you exhale—finally. But in these moments, I Like Movies wavers. The hurt resonates, but the fallout is cushioned by cinematic airbags. You don’t want to overly punish a dumbass kid for being the way he is, but when the film’s hard edge relents (often in some of the more broad comedic scenes) it undermines its more harsh truths. Most disappointing, D’Ugo’s wry, magnetic performance sometimes feels in service of a character who, despite her own lampshading, cannot escape the cinematic pull to coddle and educate an ill-equipped boy. I Like Movies may be Lawrence’s vision of the world, but his feel-good finale would have the cinephile in him rolling his eyes.

But he’d love the rest of the movie he lives in. Levack’s filmmaking, her sense of place and her placement of sensory details (you feel the full mess of a Mexican food spill; the movie feels all the colder because of how she shoots a warm, parka-on-parka hug), build out a time capsule, plated with nostalgia and tarnished by hindsight. It doesn’t have a romantic view of high school, or even a romantic view of the movies (despite Lawrence’s infatuation with Punch-Drunk Love), but it does have a romanticism about its fringe-dwellers. You’re not stuck being who you were in high school, but who you were in high school never quite goes away—not from your personality, and not from the “you” that those who once knew you remember. Excavating that bittersweet history, of insecurity and shame and misanthropy, rather than burying it, allows I Like Movies to speak clearly to those who’ve also erected protective walls of pop cultural passion, without sacrificing the prickly parts that make its observations so sharp.

Director: Chandler Levack
Writer: Chandler Levack
Starring: Isaiah Lehtinen, Romina D’Ugo, Krista Bridges, Percy Hynes White
Release Date: April 19, 2024

Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and features, follow @PasteMovies.

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