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‘I Like Movies’ offers a lesson in comeuppance

“I Like Movies” (2022 production, 2024 release). Cast: Isaiah Lehtinen, Percy Hynes White, Krista Bridges, Romina D’Ugo, Eden Cupid, Arnand Rajaram, Andy McQueen, Alex Ateah, Dan Beirne. Director: Chandler Levack. Screenplay: Chandler Levack. Web site. Trailer

It’s admirable when someone has obvious enthusiasm for a personal passion and is eager to share that sentiment with others. Most of us can probably appreciate and relate to that kind of fervor, happy for the individual’s obviously ardent zeal. We may not necessarily concur with the nature of that burgeoning fascination, but there’s nothing wrong with a subdued response as long as it’s not looked on dismissively. Indeed, it can be off-putting when our reaction is seen as less than enthusiastic and met with condescension, arrogance and disdain. Such hostility can backfire, leading to a hard lesson in comeuppance, circumstances vividly depicted in the new Canadian comedy-drama, “I Like Movies.”

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) loves movies. He talks about them constantly, frequently peppering his conversations and observations about life with film references, some of them commonly known, others decidedly more obscure. This practice generally goes over well with close friends and cinephiles, like his best buddy, Matt (Percy Hynes White), who often collaborates on making movies with Lawrence, projects they share with classmates in their media studies class. But, for others who aren’t as obsessive about cinema as he is, like his hard-working widowed mom, Terri (Krista Bridges), Lawrence’s single-mindedness about the subject can become somewhat tedious and trying. He has trouble understanding how others might not share his passion or don’t get the references to the pictures he cites. So, in those cases, he often looks down on them, letting his self-centered feelings of artistic superiority take over, an attitude that drives an undeniable wedge between him and others.

Lawrence’s passion is certainly admirable; indeed, how many of his contemporaries have such a clear vision about what interests them, especially where their futures are concerned? He’s so focused in this regard, in fact, that he’s set his sights on wanting to become a filmmaker after graduation. He’s fixated on attending the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, an ambitious, albeit lofty, goal. But Lawrence is thoroughly convinced he’ll be accepted – so much so that he’s reluctant to consider even applying elsewhere. Given NYU’s exacting standards, however, getting in is a long shot (not to mention the fact that the $90,000 tuition is well beyond what he and his mother can realistically afford). Still, Lawrence doesn’t hesitate to dismiss such “inconvenient” logistical considerations out of hand; in his mind, the fulfillment of his goal takes precedence above all else, and he never backs down from letting others know that.

As he finishes up his last year of high school, Lawrence takes steps to prepare for life after graduation. For instance, Lawrence and Matt, with the guidance of their media studies class teacher, Mr. Olenick (Arnand Rajaram), work on producing a year-end film to be shown at a special class assembly. And, to help him gain “industry experience,” he lands a job at a local video rental store (remember those? well, it is 2003 after all), believing it to be a significant learning opportunity (even though most of his time is spent on mundane tasks like restocking shelves and working the check-out counter).

High school senior Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen), an aspiring filmmaker, takes a job in a video rental store in hopes that it will provide him with valuable movie industry experience, as seen in writer-director Chandler Levack’s debut feature, “I Like Movies.” Photo courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. and Mongrel Media.

On the surface, these initiatives might seem like motivated, proactive measures. But, being who he is, Lawrence approaches these tasks as he believes they should be handled, regardless of whether his actions meet the requirements of what’s expected (after all, given his presumed superior intellect and artistic sensibilities, he knows what’s best, right?). Needless to say, though, that approach often gets in the way. For instance, when it comes to one of his class projects, he deliberately disregards the nature of the assignment because he believes that what he filmed instead was a better, more relevant creation than what was specified. Likewise, at the video store, his manager, Alana (Romina D’Ugo), tasks him with promoting sales of home copies of “Shrek” (2001), something he’d rather not do given that it’s “beneath him” to be a shill for hawking merchandise, especially for such a commercial and innately “inferior” movie as this.

What’s more, Lawrence frequently drags his feet when it comes to getting things done. For example, when it comes to working on the year-end film, Mr. Olenick asks when he can expect to see a cut of the project, given that it needs approval from the principal before it can be shown. Lawrence says it’s nearly ready to be screened, when, in fact, he’s barely started shooting. And, given that the project is a collaboration with Matt, Lawrence’s procrastination puts his friend in a compromised position, too, straining their friendship and working relationship. The delay and deception also prompt Matt to consider teaming up with a new collaborator, fellow classmate, Lauren (Eden Cupid), threatening the project and hos connection with Lawrence.

What’s even worse, though, is that Lawrence is oblivious to the fallout from all of the foregoing. In part that’s because he thinks he knows more than everyone else, even though he’s often utterly clueless, especially when it comes to how naively misinformed he is about the nature of the movie business. Then there’s his ignorance about why so many people have systematically turned away from him, including Matt, Lauren, Mr. Olenick, Alana, his mother and his video store co-workers (Andy McQueen, Alex Ateah), all of whom grow intolerant of his haughty attitude and blatant irresponsibility. And all of this comes down while he awaits word about his NYU application. What’s he going to do if that doesn’t work out, either?

So, if Lawrence is so gifted, focused and ambitious, why is he also such a jerk? That’s an intriguing question – and one that’s not easily answered. He makes grand plans, but sometimes he shoots himself in the foot, drops the ball, fails to follow through and makes decisions based on grandiose erroneous assumptions that aren’t grounded in fact. He wants people to like and respect him for his talents and as a person, but he frequently treats them rudely, creating an almost instantaneous dislike of him. And how is it that he can’t see the links among these contradictory ambitions, attitudes and consequences? Indeed, why does this pattern occur at all, let alone repeatedly?

High school seniors Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen, left) and Matt Macarchuck (Percy Hynes White, right) spend much of their free time at the cinema, preparation for hoped-for careers as filmmakers, as seen in the new Canadian comedy-drama, “I Like Movies.” Photo courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. and Mongrel Media.

Ultimately, everything is traceable back to Lawrence himself. His undertakings and the outcomes that result from them all stem from him – specifically, his beliefs and their inherently conflicting nature. That’s important to recognize given the role they play in the manifestation of our existence, the product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these intangible resources are responsible for the materialization of our reality. It’s unclear whether Lawrence is aware of or has ever heard of this school of thought. But one thing is for certain – his lack of grasping the role his beliefs play in creating his world is keeping him from understanding why it unfolds as it does.

Inherent contradictions in our beliefs account for one of the key reasons why we may not be able to comprehend why our existence manifests in such a puzzling manner. The apparent but indecipherable disconnect between what we hope for and what we experience often leaves individuals like Lawrence scratching their heads. It’s frustrating, perhaps even maddening, but it results no matter what we might do, often in a seemingly ceaseless pattern that can’t be broken – that is, unless we take specific steps to unravel the mystery that’s driving these circumstances.

The most significant step is taking an intensive look at all of the beliefs that factor into these outcomes. Which specific beliefs account for what arises, and how do each of the innate contradictions play into the results? Understanding this may well shed light on why events are unfolding as they do.

For instance, Lawrence may be thoroughly convinced of his intrinsic artistic abilities and creative potential (and rightfully so), but he’s paired that belief with one tied to an inflated sense of self, a view characterized by notions of superior (albeit exaggerated) intellect, more refined aesthetics and elevated maturity. However, astute, on-target conclusions about the former do not necessarily translate into comparably accurate conclusions about the latter, and they might not (and, in this case, do not) jibe. As a consequence, it’s not realistic to assume that one set of beliefs can be used to justify another. But, when those attitudes are blatantly flaunted and crassly thrust upon others (especially among those who can see that the belief pairings don’t line up), it can easily repel them, leading to unwanted (and, in Lawrence’s case, unanticipated and misunderstood) reactions.

Lawrence is frequently his own worst enemy in this regard, too. That inflated sense of self readily fuels a sense of entitlement on a variety of fronts. And, when he doesn’t get what he wants, he often reacts indignantly, perhaps even hostilely, toward those who don’t comply with his expectations. To make matters worse, these situations can become further inflamed when the outcomes result from Lawrence’s own irresponsibility. He fails to recognize that actions (and the beliefs underlying them) carry consequences. And, when an unwillingness to accept that sets in, it can lead to a belief in victimhood, a stance that might seem comfortable at the time but that ultimately solves nothing, both in terms of rectifying the issue at hand and the larger, overarching pattern of which it’s a part (one that has probably been going on for some time, too).

Video rental store employee Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen, left) receives advice about life, work and the film industry from his extremely patient store manager, Alana (Romina D’Ugo, right), in the new comedy-drama from writer-director Chandler Levack, “I Like Movies.” Photo courtesy of VHS Forever Inc. and Mongrel Media.

To a certain extent, some of Lawrence’s issues are a result of personal trauma and psychological difficulties, both of which, in all fairness, should earn him some slack. However, when he draws upon beliefs associated with such an extension of grace, it further feeds into his well-established sense of entitlement, and we’ve already seen what results that has yielded when he trots it out in an effort to get his way. This is not to suggest that Lawrence should be capriciously subjected to uncaring insensitivity, but there are limits to what he should be accorded, and, as it stands now, he doesn’t hesitate to push those boundaries whenever he can when he believes that doing so will ultimately work to his advantage.

From all of the foregoing, then, it would seem Lawrence has got his work cut out for him. He needs to examine all of the beliefs that are in play and how they function in tandem as a means to understanding why circumstances manifest as they do. In the process, he needs to purge the beliefs that aren’t serving him, especially when they undermine whatever noble intentions he might be putting forth. Beliefs associated with his superior sense of self, condescension toward others, wanton irresponsibility and unrepentant victimhood clearly need to go if he wants better outcomes to his undertakings. But he must make the effort to recognize those wayward intents and rewrite them if he ever hopes for things to improve. If he doesn’t, that nagging comeuppance is likely to persist for a long time to come.

Writer-director Chandler Levack’s debut feature serves up a smart, sassy, edgy comedy-drama about learning how to be legitimately inspired and impassioned without making an insufferable ass out of oneself, youthful inexperience and personal difficulties notwithstanding. The picture is loaded with hilarious and poignant movie references that avid cinephiles are sure to love and appreciate, as well as an array of sidesplitting coming of age bits that probably take many of us back to the geeky ways of our own adolescence. Admittedly, some of the story threads seem a little implausible and don’t work as well as they might have (especially in the final act), and a few of the jokes – though funny – unfortunately stand alone like comic islands that seem disconnected from the main narrative. Nevertheless, “I Like Movies” is an otherwise-whimsical, delightful, engaging indie gem that will remind us of what it was once like to be idealistic yet blissfully ignorant, one that we can only hope will leave an indelible impression on younger viewers whose off-screen behavior tends to mirror that of the protagonist. Indeed, it’s one thing to love movies, but it’s something else entirely to think that life operates the same way and hope against hope that it will turn out like that. The film has been playing in limited theatrical release but is likely to be available for streaming in the not-too-distant future.

Many creative types go through phases not unlike what Lawrence experiences in their youth, believing that they know it all and can’t be told anything. The price they subsequently pay is a rude awakening when the folly of their beliefs becomes apparent to them. Thankfully, though, most of them awaken at some point and shed the self-important attitudes, particularly when subjected to a hefty helping of comeuppance. It would probably be easier (and healthier) to not have to go through such an experience, but, if it inevitably helps us to gain a better understanding of our beliefs, ourselves and our experience, then maybe it’s worthwhile in the end. One can only hope that it’s something we work our way through quickly, enabling us to get on with the more important work of our existence – like making movies. Just remember, though, that such creations are a part of our reality – and not the reality itself.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved. 

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