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Parking Lot Movie, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Thoroughly and hilariously trivial."
5 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2010: Most documentary features that get any sort of play beyond local public television do because not only are they generally well-made, but they have important subject matter; someone programming a film festival or a boutique movie house decides you NEED to see this. That's fine, although if you haven't cursed out a programmer for an unwatchable movie about a worthy topic, it's just a matter of time. So "The Parking Lot Movie" is worth a shot if it shows up in a theater near you. I mean, do the math; how entertaining must it be to get booked when it is so aggressively, delightfully trivial?

It is not, after all, a look at parking lots as a phenomenon. You won't hear commentary on how parking lots are asphalt hot spots that create strange weather on a micro scale, or how the demand for parking has pushed white collar jobs out of the inner city and into the suburbs. No, this is a film about a specific parking lot, the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, a triangular piece of land tucked between a few bars and railroad tracks. A likable fellow by the name of Chris Farina has owned and operated it for the past twenty-odd years, with the staff mostly coming from the nearby university. At the time of filming, it mostly seemed to be faculty and grad students from the philosophy department, as employees tend to bring their friends in as soon as a spot opens up.

They do this because the Corner Parking Lot appears to be one of those spots that is a delight to work at so long as you accept it for what it is: A parking lot. The hours are flexible, the pay is enough for a student to scrape by on, and there are long periods that can either be used for studying or goofing around with friends, so long as the work gets done. From what we see in the film, the Lot has a history of hiring folks who are clever and witty.

Lots of places can be like that (I remember my college job in a movie theater that way), but few of them have quite so many funny people. Most aren't famous - one alumnus is James McNew of Yo La Tengo, but the vast majority are folks like John Lindaman, a soft-spoken scholar now working in a New York library. He is a riot, using ivory-tower language to relate blue-collar anecdotes. Other contributors are similar, though few match Lindaman's dry, self-aware but straight-faced delivery.

And there are a lot of stories to tell and shenanigans to show. Few are, in and of themselves, more special than the anecdotes anybody at this sort of job accumulates, but director Meghan Eckman and co-editor Christopher Hlad find a good rhythm, especially for a project that grew from a ten-minute short to a featurette to an 80-minute feature as footage kept rolling in. There's an art to editing something like this, mixing interviews with scenes of the lot attendants in (in)action, and silent shots of words stenciled onto the wooden gate. It's finding the right balance of people talking about how a job like this is a battle with the rest of humanity so that we start to share the mindset but also can laugh at the absurdity of it.

Will you learn a whole lot from this movie? Nah, not unless you've ever had an job like this, one which seems inconsequential from the outside but which you enjoy and take to heart. But whether you have or not, you'll probably laugh a lot. It's a movie packed with bits that are funny not just because they're true, but because they're hilariously presented.

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originally posted: 05/08/10 10:13:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 series, click here.

User Comments

6/05/10 Ronald Holst Aw Don't Get It is this supposed to be a Documentary or a comedy 2 stars
5/08/10 Chuck Gagliano Hilartously funny and entertaining movie 5 stars
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  DVD: 15-Mar-2011



Directed by
  Meghan Eckman
  Christopher Hlad

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