TIFF 2022: I Like Movies, by David Bax
If you’ve had your fill of 90s nostalgia–and who hasn’t–then get ready for the novel take provided by Chandler Levack‘s I Like Movies… It’s early 2000s nostalgia! In Levack’s defense, she manages to resist stocking the film with nonstop references to, like, The West Wing and Nickelback or whatever. On the other hand, it’s hard to see what the period setting does bring to this story of a budding cinephile too troubled and insecure to comprehend his own entitlement. All it appears to do is cynically aim for the heart of movie lovers who are, well, exactly my age. In this case, it missed.
Levack’s choice to shoot in the boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio, though, does feel motivated, not some cheap play for indie cred. Our protagonist, Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), like so many film fans who came of age pre-DVD, is mired in the world of standard definition, pan and scan transfers of movies on VHS tapes. It makes sense to frame his story in the way he would be likely to envision it.
Again, like a lot of us (if you can’t tell, I very much see myself in Lawrence), he makes his movie habit more affordable by getting a job at a video store. In these scenes, I Like Movies gets the details exactly right. It’s not just that the film hilariously nails the indignities of working for a chain video store (which I did for a mercifully brief period, no disrespect to the shuttered Movie Gallery chain intended), like being forced into a salesman position for movies and promotions you abhor. Levack also pins down the way such a job provides an early brush with adulthood, a place to establish an identity apart from the family and schoolmates who have known you for so long, to make decisions of your own about what your interests are and, as in Lawrence’s case, to make friends who are older and more independent.
Counterintuitive though it may seem, specificity in movies has always been key to relatability. Even if those specifics aren’t necessarily recognizable to every viewer, their presence makes the whole film feel more real. So I appreciated the many Canadian touches, like the poster for The Saddest Music in the World or name-checking the city of Guelph, along with likely many more not recognized by this American.
Sadly, after arming her film with all of these well-crafted tools, Levack doesn’t quite know how to wield them. Details like Lawrence’s father’s death by suicide present darker areas to be explored but, at almost every turn, the movie comes off as too timid to do so. Even when Lawrence is confronted with the darker side of the movie industry, via a monologue delivered by Romina D’Ugo as video store manager Alana, it ultimately seems to soften his edges, not sharpen them. I Like Movies is committed to ending on a note of neat positivity. It’s a sight better than the lightweight uplift of another movie-obsessed teen story, the cynically maudlin Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But it pales in comparison to another recent tale of an arrogant, artistically driven teen, Owen Kline‘s Funny Pages. See that one instead.