Canadian Chandler Levack brings us one of the most exciting films of the year
At the risk of sounding too dramatic, Chandler Levack’s nostalgic and heartfelt film i like movieswith Isaiah Lehtinen, Percy Hynes White and Romina D’Ugo, has brought us more joy and excitement than we have seen a movie in a long time.
Set in 2003 in Burlington, Ontario, 17-year-old Lawrence Kweller (Lehtinen) is a teenage cinephile, or as many would call him, a movie bro who can often be cocky when it comes to his film knowledge. When Lawrence isn’t watching movies, he tunes in Saturday night live and makes his own films with his best friend Matt Macarchuck (White). Lawrence has a clear goal after graduating high school: attend film school at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which his single mother, Terri (Krista Bridges), isn’t particularly supportive of, especially given the high tuition fees.
Lawrence’s plan to fund film school in New York is to work at the local Sequels video store under the direction of Alana (Romina D’Ugo), who has worked part-time as an actress. The two don’t necessarily see eye to eye at first, but they develop an interesting bond and friendship as Lawrence nears graduation.
“I really wanted to do a film, but I couldn’t do it, and I was in my 30s and I think I was kind of becoming a bitter, unforgiving film critic,” Levack said Yahoo Canada about the start of the manufacturing process i like movies. “There was this grant from Telefilm called Talent to Watch where you could get $125,000 for your first feature film.”
“So I thought, OK, think of an idea that you could do for $125,000 that could be mostly in one place. Use it as a great experience working with great actors and writing something that is just an actor’s showcase. That got me thinking about my senior year of high school when I was working at Blockbuster, and I felt like this could be a really fun environment to shoot a movie.”
“Fun” is an understatement when looking at the end product of Levack’s film. While nostalgia has become an increasingly hot and attractive entertainment tool of late, Levack has primarily figured out how to do it right. With references to things like the Big Shiny Tunes CDs, the release of the Paul Thomas Anderson film Beat drenched love (with Adam Sandler) and of course the incredibly detailed set of a 2000’s video store, i like movies really takes you back to that time in a way that is endearing but still feels unique.
“I wanted to do justice to the Lawrences in the world”
It is clear from i like movies that Levack and Lehtinen were able to harness that inexplicable filmmaking magic that just works. Lehtinen emphasized that he quickly realized that they were “on the same wavelength” and that they both saw themselves in Lawrence.
“From the moment I got the first script … I read it and it made me cry,” Lehtinen said. “I had never seen my youth experience so substantively portrayed.”
“I’m a bit of a sad, jaded, and bitter person who digs my heels into loving media. … I love movies but I’m more obsessed with other things and it was just like transposing that to cinephilia. I wanted to do justice to the Lawrences in the world, the Lawrences of different things.”
With so many elements of Lawrence connected to Levack’s personal experience at the age of 17, the filmmaker found it “oddly easy” to write this story starring a teenager.
“I think there’s something about the way we allow young men, or just male characters in general, to be more anti-heroes and to be more raspy and get away with more dodgy behavior in a way that we’re attracted to Don’t allow female characters,” Levack said. “There’s been a whole discussion over the past few years about unlikable female characters in the media and the way we’ve been scrutinizing those characters.”
“The media is so much more cruel and mean and harsh, both to the women who play these characters and how the characters are portrayed. So I felt like I got off easy with Lawrence. I feel like Lawrence had been played as a young girl, maybe the film’s reception wouldn’t have been so kind which is a bit of a mess, but at the same time I really wanted to create these very complex female characters that his coming of age is actually of guided the women in his life and really allowed him to be on a healing path.”
For Romina D’Ugo, she loved that Alana was “pretty put together” in the story, but as we progress we begin to see through the character’s “armour” and reveal that she has more worries than she might even realize .
“She’s giving this little boy his first job and she runs this crew of staff and I think it’s a beautiful ode to the people out there who are doing their best who have baggage and problems and are having a rough time, but only trying to hold it together,” D’Ugo said. “Then making some really inappropriate decisions along the way and having to live with that.”
“I Like Movies” is an example of creating characters with traumatic backstories
What’s interesting about Lawrence and Alana is that they’re at different points in their lives, with different life experiences, but there are elements of their personalities that, as Levack describes, make them like “mirror images of each other.”
“Both say things that are projected onto the other that they might say to themselves,” Levack said. “Lawrence kind of wants to be an adult and she kind of wants to be a teenager again or see herself as a teenager projected through his ambitions and dreams.”
“Also, I find it really interesting to see a movie about a teenager and a woman in her thirties that doesn’t necessarily have that romantic, sexual undercurrent. It’s really just this very complex friendship.”
In terms of crafting characters with trauma, Levack’s film really emphasizes the complexity and individuality of her characters.
“I sometimes feel like when people have a traumatic backstory in a film, that’s all, and that’s the only defining characteristic that they have,” she said. “You’re just kind of a victim right away.”
“I think for me, after going through certain elements of it, … you’re still responsible for your own actions in life, and you’re still responsible for how you treat other people. I just wanted that to be reflected The way life usually is where it’s kind of seeded into everything and sometimes you have these weird explosions of emotion or anger or sadness or melancholy and you don’t really understand what it’s all about until it’s too late.”
Welcome to the ‘Canadian film renaissance’
Canadians in particular have a lot to celebrate i like movieswith so many pointers and images specific to the Canadian experience, especially the greater Toronto area.
“I feel like Canadians are always apologizing for our own culture in a weird way,” Levack said. “When we set a story in Canada, it’s always like a little joke or a wink or something, but we don’t really take responsibility for those places.”
“Canadian films are either an amorphous Chicago or New York, or they’re like a fishing village in Newfoundland, and there’s nothing in between. Unless we’re talking about Quebec cinema, which…has that regionalism and specificity that I think a lot of Canadian cinemas lack.”
The beauty of a movie like i like movies is that it proves you don’t have to be Canadian to enjoy a Canadian film that Levack and D’Ugo saw in places like Santa Barbara, California, where the film had its US premiere.
“It was interesting to see how it still really resonated with people in the States, but they didn’t understand any of the references that are destroying here,” Levack said. “I was at a film festival in Norway. I was at a film festival in Taiwan recently, … it seems like while it’s so hyper-specifically Canadian, there’s something about the specificity of those details that actually makes it more universal.”
D’Ugo also emphasized that most of the movies we see that follow the characters trying to “make it” in film and television are mostly American, not Canadian.
“The truth is, in Canada, there’s that choice or that opportunity to try to be in the States, whether it’s New York or LA,” D’Ugo said. “Where are you opening a business? And just being an actor is a gamble, but I really appreciate that it’s so transparent that the characters in the film are touching on the fact that we’re basically trying to figure out where it’s better to be when you’re your do art.”
“At the end of the day, I think it kind of speaks to this heightened belief that we have in our lives as to what success looks like. But if you’re doing what you love and you’re bringing your own experience to it, that’s the point, that’s the point of making art.”
As Lehtinen pointed out, we are in the “Canadian film renaissance”.
“I think Canada is the funniest place on earth,” Lehtinen said. “It’s just such a weird, weird place, and we just end up turning out the weirdest people.”
“I would love for the world to adopt the identity of a Canadian comedy. … It will happen in due course.”
I Like Movies opens March 10 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox), Burlington (SilverCity), Hamilton (Playhouse), Vancouver (International Village) and Montreal. The film opens in Winnipeg on March 11 and in other Canadian cities throughout the spring.