Chandler Levack’s debut feature I Like Movies carries a level of familiarity that hits close to home. Those of us who have a deep love for cinema have likely encountered an individual like Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen), the film’s ornery teenage protagonist, in our lives. The self-centred person whose passion for movies is worn on their chest like a medal of valor. Frequently namedropping auteur directors and obscure films in conversation, to further emphasize their perceived authority on all things film, they turn their nose up at anything that does not align with their distinct view.

Truth be told, we have all displayed similar tendencies, to a certain extent, at some point. However, Lawrence takes his obsession to a level of toxicity that threatens to damage his close relationships beyond repair.

Set in Burlington, Ontario in the early 2000s, Levack’s crowd-pleasing coming-of-age tale observes Lawrence as he navigates high school while dreaming of attending NYU’s film program where he will be mentored by filmmaker Todd Solondz. Living with his mother (Krista Bridges), Lawrence spends most of his free time making short films, watching movies, and recounting Saturday Night Live skits with his best friend Matt (Percy Hynes White, Wednesday, Pretty Hard Cases). Determined to ensure that his post-secondary aspirations come into fruition, he reluctantly takes a part-time job at a local video store, Sequels, to earn money for his tuition.

Joining the staff managed by Alana (Romina D’Ugo), Lawrence initially thinks he will be giving patrons an education on true cinema by recommending works they should see. In reality, the position has him doing basic store maintenance in between trying to generate sales for the Shrek DVD. As he stumbles his way through the job, and becomes closer to Alana, his inability to tolerate anyone on a meaningful level begins to cause fractures in the few bonds he has.

Taking a few elements from her own life growing up in Burlington, Levack’s film is much more than an exercise in nostalgia. Thanks to its sharp script and the brilliant performances by Lehtinen and D’Ugo, I Like Movies reveals itself to be a layered comedy with a surprising amount of heart. Lawrence is by no means a likeable character, his toxicity hangs in the air like pungent body odour, but Levack shows genuine affection for her curmudgeon lead. Rather than making him a caricature, she ensures that, even if they do not like him, the audience understands how past traumas have shaped is current state.

Levack not only effectively captures the complexities and sense of entitlement that come with being a teenager, but the darker side of film culture as well. Through the intricately constructed scenes between Lawrence and Alana, the director skillfully wipes away the romanticised sheen of the film industry to expose the more disturbing underbelly. However, even when touching on the problematic side of the business, the film still manages to capture the enriching power that cinema has on both fans and artists alike.

Shot with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, one whose lens makes Burlington itself an important unspoken character, Levack announces herself as a refreshing new voice in cinema. Filled with plenty of wit and genuine heart, I Like Movies is a gem of a film.