I grew up right outside of Baltimore. Where I grew up, there wasn’t a whole lot of drive-ins near me. When I finally started dating the woman, who would become my wife, she introduced me to the drive-in. Drive-Ins were things that I had seen used as a plot device in several television shows and films. The one that always stuck with me the most, perhaps, was Rugrats. The babies kept trying to figure out why they were dressed for bed but in the car getting ready to watch Reptar. You get extra points if you knew I was talking about Runaway Reptar. Early in our relationship, my wife took me to the local drive-in, up where she lived while we were dating. We saw Monsters University and The Lone Ranger. Not the greatest of movies but what a marvelous and nostalgic experience it was.
The following year, however, all of the remaining drive-ins got hit with a large ultimatum: switch to digital or lose the rights to the latest movies. Hollywood was going to stop printing 35mm versions of their films and switch solely to digital. While our local drive-in was able to make that switch, other drive-ins weren’t so lucky. The Mahoning Drive-In theater was one of the latter. However, instead of closing its doors. The Mahoning went for the charm and exclusively screened classic films in their original 35mm glory. Their comeback story, and first year with the new format, is the center piece in the documentary, At the Drive-In.
Director, Alexander Monelli, does a fantastic job at laying the foundation for the film. Drive-In explores the roots of the Mahoning drive-in from its glory days to the struggling season prior. Monelli crafts a smooth narrative from its’ origins to its’ struggles and even the pivotal moment which redemption steps towards the drive-in. The film is beautifully shot, raw and honest. Monelli does an amazing job at not only showing the impact of this local drive-in for its’ community but its legacy as a whole. The drive-in, at one point in the film, is rented out for a wedding. Not even joking, talk about impact. While, the film does a good job at giving a voice to the comeback season of the drive-in; some of its’ narrative can feel derailed at times. There are a few characters and moments that bring nothing to the larger narrative. Seeming existing for the sake of the run time.
Overall, At the Drive-In, is a charming documentary. Documentarian, Alexander Monelli, brilliantly forges a masterful narrative with the history of his subject, the downfall and its’ comeback story. Perhaps, though, it’s the comeback story which is sure to warm your heart. The film is funny, sweet and extraordinarily nostalgic. Viewers will instantly wish for a drive-in, versus whatever platform they are watching it on. Though, Drive-In¸ falls a bit victim to filler narrative. Offering up sequences, shots and interviews, which pour nothing into the larger narrative. Simply existing to extend its run time to a more appropriate length. At the Drive-In is an endearing documentary for any cinephile.
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Credits: At the Drive-In s property of At the Drive-In. We do not own nor claim any rights. Official selection of Creature Feature Weekend 2019.