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L to R: Percy Hynes White (Matt), Isaiah Lehtinen (Lawrence) and Krista Bridges (Terri) in I LIKE MOVIES. Photo courtesy of VHS Forever Inc.

Percy Hynes White as Matt, Isaiah Lehtinen as Lawrence and Krista Bridges as Terri in I Like Movies.Courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. / Mongrel

I Like Movies

Written and directed by Chandler Levack

Starring Isaiah Lehtinen, Krista Bridges and Romina D’ugo

Classification N/A; 99 minutes

Opens in select theatres March 10

Critic’s Pick

Although long overshadowed by American classics both in the John Hughes vein and more modern iterations such as Superbad and Booksmart, Canada has its own legacy of great coming-of-age movies. Think My American Cousin, Ginger Snaps and the more recent Wildhood. And now, we can add writer-director Chandler Levack’s I Like Movies to that esteemed canon.

Recently nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best editing, Levack’s feature directorial debut first drew buzz at its 2022 Toronto International Film Festival world premiere, where critics and fans alike started immediately singing the movie’s praises, leading to sold-out screenings that first-time Canadian filmmakers – especially those working on a micro-budget – could only dream of.

Set in 2003, the archly comic film follows 17-year-old Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen in his debut acting role), a wry, sarcastic teen who longs to go to NYU film school and become an acclaimed director like his idol Paul Thomas Anderson (whose film Punch-Drunk Love Lawrence drags his best friend, Matt, to see at their local suburban Cineplex multiplex). Alongside Matt (Percy Hynes White), Lawrence is adding that cinematic flair to his high school’s yearbook movie, though things start going off the rails quickly as the friends’ visions don’t always align. Tensions especially rise when Matt wants to bring on a superstar editor – a girl (gasp!) – to help move things along.

Open this photo in gallery:
Isaiah Lehtinen (Lawrence) in I LIKE MOVIES by Chandler Levack. Photo courtesy of VHS Forever Inc.

If you are looking for a smart, nostalgic throwback to the kinds of films that marked the late-nineties and early aughts heyday of high-school movies, then I Like Movies deserves more than a rental – see this in theatres, if you can.Courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. / Mongrel

Meanwhile, Lawrence’s lofty dreams are constantly being brought back down to earth by his mother (Krista Bridges), who reminds Lawrence of their family’s less-than-lofty financial reality. New York is an awfully long way from Burlington, Ont.

So, searching for some quick cash and a distraction from growing tensions with Matt, Lawrence gets a job at his local video store (Blockbuster meets Jumbo Video). In awe of his new surroundings, he quickly becomes infatuated with his boss Alana, played with aplomb by Romina D’ugo, who has her own history in the film industry. This leads to some supremely uncomfortable moments, played to peak laughs.

The ensemble cast is fantastic, with Bridges and Lehtinen as standouts. The young Lehtinen in particular is sure to have a bright future, playing Lawrence with exactly the right mix of sarcasm, tenderness and acidity. Although Lawrence is often unlikeable, awkward and alienating, he is also reliable in his desire to seek out and devour a bigger, more exciting world, to take advantage of the full feast of burgeoning adulthood.

Levack, a film critic in her own right, has previously directed the TIFF-certified short film We Forgot to Break Up and award-worthy music videos for pop-punk band Pup. Here, she draws on her own teenage experience working at a video store, though the gender-swap by focusing on Lawrence is her attempt to prove that women directors need not be limited to women-centric stories – a tactic that works well, giving what could otherwise be a prickly character a great deal of depth and heart.

Levack has done a remarkable job with her feature-film debut, playing with tropes that have time-honoured traditions but are always in need of a refresh. If you are looking for a smart, nostalgic throwback to the kinds of films that marked the late-nineties and early aughts heyday of high-school movies, then I Like Movies deserves more than a rental – see this in theatres, if you can.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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