A daydream of 2002 and 2003 in the sleepy suburb of Burlington in Toronto, I like movies first takes on the guise of nostalgia with its take on the lined video library walls seen in the age of streaming. But a tougher subject is a bit at hand, as we focus on Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), the high schooler and outcast, the kind of kid who makes sure to rate him as “Paul Thomas Anderson.” love stuffed with punch” when buying a ticket from an unlucky cashier. A one-sided mind rendering him oblivious to the pain of his single mother (Krista Bridges) and most of those around him, he is essentially the realistic version of the teenage movie buff/budding filmmaker romanticized to countless young people by the character of Dawson Leery.
Recovering from his father’s suicide four years earlier and beleaguered by emotional issues, his life begins to revolve entirely around his desperation to get into NYU film school (because so many Canadians have some sort of disgust at not being American), with high tuition fees of $90,000 standing in his way. Luckily, he’s able to get a job at his local Sequels video store, if only because manager Alana (Romina D’Ugo) takes pity on him and his socially awkward ways. Upending the social dynamic between himself and his clingy best friend Matt (Percy Hynes White), Lawrence’s single-minded pursuit and devotion to his interests continues to alienate those around him, to both frightening and sometimes amusing ends.
Although rather affable – largely thanks to Lehtinen’s very funny and charismatic performance –I like movies begins to suffer from a slow rhythm engendered by an episodic structure. There is a sense, about halfway through, of waiting for time to its pre-determined softball conclusion; the number of gags that rely on checking the names of 2002 movies is gradually dwindling. There are a few signs of a more interesting movie when (not to give too much away) a potential traumatic bond forms between Lawrence and an exasperated Alana. While admirable as a risky (but brief) change of tone, it can’t keep up with that push away from a more crowd-friendly festival formula. His conclusion is too easy, adhering to the recipe for typical Sundance dramatic humanism – everyone embraces it and lets time heal all wounds.
Whereas I like movies‘ the jumble of entitlement, narcissism and aggression that comes with being a 17-year-old is perfect – and recognizes how cinema, perhaps more than any other art form, attracts the angry, socially awkward young men in his orbit – one wishes he had something more interesting up his sleeve than treating sibling-film myopia as a placeholder for lack of a father figure. Look no further than the recent funny pages to see a story of obsessively dweeby, young man hubris taken to more uncompromising and bitter lengths. If that’s noble I like movies wants to throw some sympathy on a subject you’d shield your eyes from in public, that doesn’t quite justify 95 minutes.
I like movies premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.