The festivities of the 38th Santa Barbara International Film Festival came to an emotional end on Feb. 18. After a week full of appearances from some of the biggest names in Hollywood, like Cate Blanchett and Jamie Lee Curtis, along with screenings of debut films from upcoming talent, film festival Executive Director Roger Durling brought the night to an inspiring end. His optimistic speech highlighted how despite the rise of streaming services and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie-going experience will never die, as evident by the bustling crowd present at the film festival. 

And what a better way to end the event by presenting the U.S. premiere of a Canadian comedy called “I Like Movies.” The film follows a young boy named Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) as he navigates his difficult senior year of high school. He aspires to attend NYU Tisch School of the Arts, one of the most elite universities in the world for film that has produced some of the most decorated individuals in the entertainment industries. Lawrence is a cinephile, who along with his best friend Matt Macarchuck (Percy Hynes White) spend their weekends geeking over SNL skits and new films they rented from the local video store Sequels. For a confident and hopeful Lawrence, life seems like it’s all going to fall into place: He is going to leave Canada, attend NYU, where he will be personally mentored by Todd Solondz and finally make it big as an international film maker, until he starts to face reality. 

Lawrence’s mother (Krista Bridges) tries to convince him to stay in Canada for school as it is much cheaper than NYU’s $90,000 tuition and forces him to get a job to start saving up to pay for tuition in the case he gets into NYU. So, being the movie geek that Lawrence is, he elects to get hired at Sequels. He starts to form a bond with his manager Alana (Romina D’Ugo), which is what the film is centered over. Lawrence starts to let his passion consume him, placing his desire to be successful in the industry over his friendships, inevitably causing his one friendship with Matt to end and sending Lawrence spiraling into depression. 

The rest of the movie puts an emotional spotlight on Lawrence’s mental health struggles, which worsened once he was rejected by NYU, and Alana’s tragic past as an aspiring actress. The two of them form a unique friendship since they spend so much time together at the video store, but at the end of the movie, Lawrence ends up being fired by Sequels for his irresponsibility. He ultimately attends college in Canada and starts anew, being more open to meeting new people and not allowing his movie obsession to tamper with his new life. 

The movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It is raw and emotional, yet still manages to have some amazing comedic moments throughout, realistically showing struggles that many young adults can relate to. Writer and director of the film Chandler Levack, who was present at the film festival and gave a speech before the beginning of the film, reveals the importance of an empathetic world void of narcissism through her cinema. 

A narrative about a young boy’s love for movies was the perfect way to end this year’s film festival, an event that gathers so many from all over the world to celebrate some of the year’s most profound pictures. It left the audience impacted, as seen by the roaring cheers and standing ovation, and excited for next year’s 39th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.