The new dramedy by the up-and-coming writer-director Chandler Levack, titled I Like Movies, keenly captures the life of high schooler Lawrence Kweller, who is obsessed with movies like no other kid around. Set in 2002, the story chronicles Lawrence’s final days of high school. He hopes to get into New York University’s film program to become a filmmaker. In order to save for the tuition fees, he gets a job at a video store and starts to develop feelings for his store manager, who once worked in movies as an actress. Lawrence’s temperamental problems start coming to the forefront as his friendship with his best friend Matt begins to dissolve when Matt involves another girl in the making of the high school’s year-end video.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘I Like Movies’?
Lawrence Kweller is the only son of single mom Terri. Lawrence’s best friend is Matt Macarchuck, and their favorite pastime is watching episodes of Saturday Night Live (SNL) and filming short movies under the banner of “Reject’s Night.” Lawrence is a unique teenager. He has no interests that might overlap with those of his peer group. Movies seem to be his only interest. He is not a regular moviegoer, though, going into theaters occasionally to enjoy a good time with his friends. No way! He is a true cinephile, a real movie buff, heavily into films that one might not even have heard of. Obsessed with even the most minute details of his favorite movies, he dreams of getting into the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU after completing high school to become a filmmaker. There is only one slight problem. He is not nearly as rich as his friend Matt, as Terri is only a secretary who had to become the home’s sole breadwinner after Lawrence’s dad passed away four years ago.
Lawrence and Matt are given a serious responsibility at school. They had to shoot and edit a short film of sorts that would be shown at the end of the year, encapsulating the spirit of high school. With procrastination being the order of the day for Lawrence, he stalls working on the project. Terri often worries about Lawrence’s future as he has made up his mind to apply only to NYU, essentially putting all his eggs in one basket. Even if he got selected, he would risk being in huge debt. The course was expensive, and the cost of living in America would also be substantial. Looking at all these factors, her concern for her son was legitimate. She often requests that Lawrence apply to Canadian colleges just in case he doesn’t get into Tisch. Lawrence, however, doesn’t respect his mother’s patience or concerns even a bit. Living in his own bubble, the most important upcoming event in his life is the new Paul Thomas Anderson film “Punch Drunk Love,” starring SNL superstar Adam Sandler. Lawrence’s insolence is revealed when he rudely asks her mother to leave the living room and let him and Matt enjoy their “Reject’s Night” when she only wants to enjoy it with them. Matt never really called Lawrence on any of his bad behavior. He enjoyed his time with Lawrence, whether making movies or acting as the host of SNL, but gradually some events occurred that changed the dynamic between them completely.
Why Do Lawrence And Matt Grow Apart?
One day at school, Lauren, a classmate, appreciates the bizarre short movie Lawrence and Matt had made on the topic of “media bias.” The film had no relevance to the topic, and Lawrence explains that it was an ode to the friendship between him and Matt, rejecting Lauren’s interpretation completely. Matt is visibly embarrassed to be starring in the film and is turned off by Lawrence’s conceited attitude toward everything. He lets it slide, but Lawrence’s behavior only gets worse.
Lawrence, at this point, was like a horse with blinders on. A strange horse that wasn’t even interested in running, and no one to flog him for his slacking disposition. He could only envision leaving Canada and everything it stood for behind and dreaming of his life at NYU, where he would make his “real friends.” He is so into his own head that he tells this vision to Matt, who doesn’t take it too well. How could he? Did it mean Lawrence’s friendship with him hadn’t been “real”?
Matt tries to forget the mean comments Lawrence had uttered to his face, perhaps giving him the benefit of the doubt. He tries to get on with making the year-end film with him and brings Lauren into the team. He does not do it with the intention of making Lawrence feel upset and even teaches Lauren to appear like a cinephile in order to impress Lawrence so that he can easily accommodate her without feeling like he has been sidelined by his own friend. Lawrence doesn’t acknowledge any of these steps taken by Matt and starts ridiculing Lauren at every point. He mocks Matt the most for trying to get Lauren on their team. Lauren is enraged by Lawrence’s vitriolics, and Matt, from thereon, decides to team up with Lauren and make the video with her.
Why Was Lawrence So Mean-Spirited At Times?
There wasn’t an immediate incident that suddenly made Lawrence have these temperamental issues. It had been a gradual buildup, but it did have a core. Lawrence’s father did not die of natural causes. Four years ago, he had committed suicide, hanging himself in the house’s garage, after which Lawrence started to develop emotional issues. The resentment he subconsciously harbored against his mother for his father’s death added to the anger. Teenage is such a turbulent stage, with all sorts of physical and mental changes occurring in an individual. Lawrence experiencing such a traumatic event at that age was bound to impact him in some sort of fundamental way. It isn’t clear whether he started delving into cinema around that time, but it can easily be assumed. The complexity of the event only became more convoluted, as it was bound to be, and affected so many other aspects of his life. He had formed a peculiar habit over the years of spewing the most hurtful things or doing something unforgivable, knowing he could always use his father’s suicide as an excuse.
Little clues like Lawrence pulling the strand of hair from the back of his head showed that he was under stress, which perhaps was another reason contributing to his choleric temperament. Lawrence’s stress was a result of his improbable dream of getting into NYU, which had become an absolute necessity to preserve his self-image. He slacked around in almost all other departments of his life, but it was his dream that kept him going. He manages to get a job at a video rental store to earn and save for his tuition fees. There he meets Alana, the store manager, and they bond over sensitive topics while Lawrence starts to develop feelings for her.
How Exactly Does Lawrence Bond With Alana?
One day Alana takes him for a ride to drop him home, and Lawrence feels an attraction towards her so much so that he forgets to even say thank you. Lawrence might behave a little impertinently, but when his stress levels were low, he could be interesting to talk to and can come up with good ideas. After he takes the job at the video store, he suggests to her the idea of having a section where the favorite movies of the store’s employees would be kept, with him handling the entire set-up. The idea becomes a success, and Lawrence makes a mark for himself on the job.
Talking to Alana in the store, Lawrence asks her about her dream career, assuming being the manager of the video rental couldn’t possibly be her end goal. Alana proceeds to tell him that she had gone to a Canadian college to study to be an actress but dropped out after her roommate committed suicide. Hearing this, he felt a strong sense of connection to her. Finally, there was somebody who had a similar experience. He comes back home and agrees to pay heed to someone’s advice for the first time. He applied to Carleton College, taking Alana’s advice to keep a backup, even though he had rejected the same advice from his mother several times before.
Alana, however, had no idea of his father’s suicide. She comes clean to him when Lawrence has a panic attack in the store on his father’s birth anniversary. She tells him that she doesn’t suffer in the same way as he might think she does. Her real traumatic event was that of molestation at the hands of a big producer during the initial days of her acting career in America. It was the main reason she had come back to her hometown and was working as a store manager instead of pursuing her dream. Lawrence jumps in to question her on her decision not to go to the police, and Alana snaps.
How Did Lawrence Mend Things With Alana And Matt?
Before mending things with Alana, he actually made them much worse. Alana had been vulnerable in front of him, and Lawrence triggered her by asking a question that essentially blamed her. He immediately realized that and proceeded to calm her down, but his attraction for her made him come a bit too close, and the whole situation became extremely awkward. His attempt at patching up with Matt didn’t go too well either. He thought he had planned a “Reject’s Night” with Matt, but Matt had no such intentions. Lawrence only realizes that when Matt doesn’t come and pick him up from the store. He had already told Terri that he would be staying at Matt’s place and hence didn’t want to go home. So he asked Brendan, a senior employee, to let him sleep in the store. Brendan hands over the security duties to Lawrence and goes home. Lawrence wakes up, forgets the security code, and walks out, leaving the store wide open. He reaches home and finds he didn’t get into NYU, and Terri receives the news that the store has been robbed. Under stress, Lawrence again uses his father’s suicide as an excuse, clearly to manipulate the human resources manager, who gives him a three-week probation, not allowing him to avail himself of the discount on the DVD of “Punch Drunk Love.” He tries the tactic with Alana and expresses his affection for her, but Alana calls him out as a narcissist.
Completely up against the wall in all departments, Lawrence begins to sort things out one by one. He begins with Matt and asks him upfront why they grew apart. Matt gives him the straight answer that he didn’t like Lawrence when he behaved like he was better than everyone else. For the first time, Lawrence does not proceed to give a counterargument and simply tells him that he loved him as a friend and missed him every day. He doesn’t miss the opportunity to tell Lauren that the year-end video she made with Matt really made him emotional. Lawrence asks Matt to sign his yearbook, and Matt obliges, showing no sign of ill will towards him. Lawrence was rejected from NYU, but he had made up his mind to go to Carleton. Matt and Lawrence could continue their friendship as they were to study in nearby universities.
Serendipitously one day, he runs into Alana at a restaurant, and they have a chat. Here we see Lawrence being voluntarily vulnerable, as opposed to him being vulnerable after his panic attack when he could be said not to be in full control of his emotions. We see the insecure kid who just wanted people to like him. He asks her how he could get people to like him at university when he often feels that even his mother doesn’t like him. Alana’s fury had taken a back seat from the last time they were face-to-face. She sees the goofy kid in front of her and advises him to genuinely be interested in other people and actually pay attention to what they say. He immediately puts her advice into practice and asks her how she is doing. Alana tells him she left her job at the store, started therapy, and is pursuing acting again.
Lawrence walks away with Alana’s precious advice and begins his course at Carleton. A girl walks into his dorm, and seeing the “Steel Magnolias” poster on his wall (which was Alana’s favorite film), she asks him if he would like to meet the other students. Lawrence, who could have easily withdrawn again, shows courage and goes with the girl. He asks them a lot of questions, and the new group welcomes him, signifying that he could go on to have an enriching time at the university. He probably wouldn’t have to use cinema as a coping strategy now, and seeing him get involved in university life is a great sign that he would become a holistic person, much more adept at handling stress, and actually make his dream of being able to make movies a reality.
I Like Movies would tug at the heartstrings of every cinephile, who, at some time or another, found solace only in cinema, especially when the life around them was falling apart or they felt helpless. Although dealing with the high school coming-of-age genre, director Chandler Levack has managed to not get too romantic with his idea and kept it real, dealing with certain problems that cinema does not solve, making his film quite unique and memorable.