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I LIKE MOVIES: 4 STARS. “think ‘High Fidelity’ only set in a video store.”

“I Like Movies,” a coming-of-age story set against a background of angst, anxiety and Paul Thomas Anderson, is a period piece set in a time when local Blockbusters were shrines for suburban film lovers.

Set in 2003, in Burlington, Ontario, a small city midway between Toronto and Niagara Falls, the film centers around teenage film bro and wannabe moviemaker Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen). Arrogant and insecure, he allows his love of film, dream of attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and anxiety alienate the most important people in his life.

His life is changed when he gets a job at Sequels, a cheekily-named video store in his hometown. He’s there for the ten free weekly rentals available to employees and to recommend obscure art films to folks who would rather watch “Shrek.”

The job, of course, isn’t exactly what Lawrence hoped it would be. At the insistence of his manager Alana (Romina D’Ugo) he is forced to wear a sash, emblazed with the titles of movies he thinks are beneath him. And, let’s face it, learning to rotate stock in the drink cooler is about as far from movie making as you can get.

As the summer ends so does the dream of attending NYU, forcing Lawrence, with the help of his frazzled mother (Krista Bridges) and some tough love from Alana, to rethink his movie dreams and confront reality.

Part work-place comedy—think “High Fidelity” only set in a video store—part character study, “I Like Movies” is sweet-natured, funny film that digs deep to make us feel empathy for Lawrence, a socially awkward character who hides his real feelings behind a facade of bluster and pretension.

Lawrence is not a likable character, at least not when we first meet him, and yet director and screenwriter Chandler Levack—who worked in at a Blockbuster Video as a teen—inspires empathy for him. His arrogant bluster stems from insecurity, and the more we get to know about him, the more we feel for him even as he drones on about Paul Thomas Anderson or Stanley Kubrick. As Alana pushes him to reevaluate his attitudes and look at life beyond the screen, Lehtinen allows us to see the wheels turning inside the character’s head as his redemption looms.

Strong performances, particularly from Lehtinen and D’Ugo, and a genuinely heartfelt script make this take on adolescent angst (and film bros) a winning debut for Levack.

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