‘I Like Movies’ Review: Isaiah Lehtinen Leads Coming-of-Age Indie Film

TIFF: This detail-laden movie a few younger cinephile working at a video retailer supplies nostalgic laughs and real coronary heart in equal measures.

For Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen), the 17-year-old cinephile protagonist of “I Like Motion pictures,” the movie’s title isn’t only a assertion of reality. It’s additionally a go well with of armor, an all-purpose excuse, and an earnest try at connection. Connection isn’t straightforward for Lawrence, a state of affairs that’s solely partially his personal fault. He’s sullen, callous, condescending, stubbornly delusional, and even a bit sexist (like many geeky boys of his age and period, he has a tough time believing that ladies can even like films). However he’s additionally clever, formidable, hyper-articulate, and as weak as a child chicken that’s fallen from its nest. 

Lawrence exists on a continuum that additionally contains “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer and “Woman Chook’s” Christine “Woman Chook” McPherson, however he’s a extra lifelike character than both of them. All youngsters suppose that they’re particular and it’s extraordinarily unfair that the world has but to acknowledge their presents. However “I Like Motion pictures” is simply too grounded of a movie to entertain these fantasies. Making her function debut, writer-director Chandler Levack has pulled off a uncommon trick right here by making a film that feels heat and secure with out coddling its protagonist. 

“I Like Motion pictures” takes place within the very particular setting of Burlington, Ontario, within the winter and spring of 2003. The interval trappings are minimal, and realizing; in an indication that Levack shares at the very least a few of her primary character’s obsessiveness, the passage of time is marked by the rotating titles on the cabinets of Sequels, the video retailer the place he will get a job originally of the film. Working at Sequels is a dream for Lawrence, who — after some preliminary humiliation from his supervisor Alana (Romina D’Ugo), who informs him that he should additionally promote the DVDs of films he doesn’t like — channels all of his artistic vitality into making a “Employees Picks” shelf for the shop. He additionally volunteers to work till midnight on Saturdays, as a result of it’s not like he has anyplace higher to be. 

For cinephiles of a sure age, the video retailer scenes in “I Like Motion pictures” might be achingly nostalgic. (This reviewer did time at the same retailer in faculty, and received a little bit verklempt on the scene the place Alana exhibits Lawrence rotate the soda cooler so the most recent bottles are on the again.) And the movie simply begs for the pause-and-screenshot therapy, with insert photographs documenting Lawrence’s weekly haul from Sequels and conspicuously positioned marquees and white boards itemizing the newest new releases. A lacking VHS copy of “Wild Issues” is a significant plot level. Two characters go to see “Punch-Drunk Love” collectively. Levack glides the digicam throughout the brand new launch wall at Sequels, betting that her viewers desires to browse these cabinets as badly as her characters do. 

This self-aware building of Easter eggs is likely one of the movie’s extra affected qualities. The opposite comes from occasional spikes within the comedic tone from relaxed and pure right into a extra sketch-comedy kind of exaggerated awkwardness. The entire film might be like this, in crueler and fewer empathetic arms. The truth that it isn’t is a testomony each to Levack’s script — the film adorns its wisecracks, and underplays its drama  — and Lehtinen’s efficiency as Lawrence. As he’s pressured to reckon with the truth that he’s in all probability not going to go to NYU and change into Todd Solondz’s favourite scholar, Lehtinen knocks down his character’s partitions to disclose the frightened, emotionally unstable boy behind the neckerchiefs and jargon lifted from film magazines.

The connection between director and star in “I Like Motion pictures” may be very intuitive; relying on the context, delicate shifts in Lehtinen’s posture and facial expressions can function punch strains or intestine punches. A scene the place Lawrence has a panic assault within the again room at Sequels, sobbing and gulping the air as he unexpectedly adjustments into his maroon polo shirt, is heartbreaking sufficient to make a viewer neglect that this is similar character whose “buuuut moooooooommm” is grating sufficient for use as a weapon of warfare. It’s a exceptional efficiency from the younger actor, who has been working in TV for a few decade however makes his debut right here as a number one man. 

The chemistry and dynamic between Lehtinen and D’Ugo can also be very unaffected, up till a well-intentioned however miscalibrated #MeToo monologue nearly breaks the phantasm of relatability. It’s not that issues like what occurred to Alana earlier than she began working at Sequels don’t occur in actual life. It’s simply that the truth that it occurred to the supervisor of the suburban Canadian video retailer the place a naive film lover in want of some critical humbling simply occurs to work is a little bit neater of a plot machine than this in any other case unassuming movie usually leans on. It does give some essential context to Alana’s abrasive, no-nonsense persona, nonetheless, simply because the intelligently parceled out backstory about Lawrence’s conspicuously absent father provides layers to his obnoxious fragility. 

The movie’s different main plotline, in regards to the gradual dissolution of Lawrence’s relationship along with his greatest pal Matt (Percy Hynes White), can also be tidy, hitting the entire regular emotional and structural beats for tales about two loser youngsters who develop aside as they enter maturity. Whereas ostensibly the “A” story for the film, it’s not missed as a lot because it is likely to be when it, too, fades into the background. This facet of the movie can also be endearing, nonetheless, notably a scene the place Matt and Lawrence play their favourite sport on what they’ve dubbed “Reject’s Night time”: Developing with and performing out their introductions as “solid members” in imaginary opening credit for “Saturday Night time Dwell.” 

“I Like Motion pictures” just isn’t a kind of movies that draws consideration by aggressively breaking the principles, nonetheless. Levack understands the boundaries of what she has to work with for her debut function — this was an ultra-low funds venture, with Levack citing a determine of $125,000 in a single current interview out of TIFF — and correctly decides to work inside them. Backed by robust writing and even stronger performances, the result’s a movie that’s small however not slight, candy however not cloying, and the form of factor that may make even a cynical critic like films once more. 

Grade: B+

I Like Motion pictures” premiered on the 2022 Toronto Worldwide Movie Pageant. Go to Media has acquired the worldwide distribution rights.

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