Hot Docs Review: The Parking Lot Movie

The Parking Lot Movie is to parking lot attendants what Clerks was to register jockeys. And dare I say it? The Parking Lot Movie is better.

“Parking lot attendant” isn’t the job most parents dream of for their kids, but for those who end up working in Charlottesville Virginia’s Corner Parking Lot it’s more than just a dead end job on the way to a dead end life – it’s a lesson in humanity and everything that’s wrong with it. Located a stone’s throw from the University of Virginia and tucked in behind an occasionally foul-smelling restaurant just off Main St, the assortment of overeducated attendants who work there have to deal with throngs of drunken frat boys, jackass vandals, and SUV-driving assholes who either take off without paying or fight them over sums as low as $0.40. Fortunately in this establishment the normally agreed upon rules of customer service don’t exist. Disrespect the staff and face the consequences.

The backgrounds of the men who have manned the booth (there have been approximately 10 women out of the hundred or so people who have worked there since it opened in 1986 but none appear in the movie) are educated and intelligent.  One is an anthropology prof, one is a chief librarian at a Natural History Museum, some are musicians, a few are students, and all are wise-asses. It’s these guys, along with benevolent owner Chris Farina (who says “it’s not about how I treat the customers, it’s about how I treat the employees”) that make this movie, and this parking lot, what it is.

With a lot of time on their hands they have a chance to contemplate the unique facets of their place of business and as a result have a lot of amusing and occasionally insightful things to say – both about the job and the microcosm of humanity that’s displayed within it. At the CPL it’s “us versus them,” and the battle is fierce.  Farina makes it a habit to hire eloquent post-grad types who aren’t just going to sit back and let people be douchebags. He allows them to handle difficult situations in a way they see fit and in return they offer him their fierce loyalty.  Just listen to any one of the staff members describe (or in some cases put their lives at risk by chasing) the jerks who drive out without paying and it’s clear that to these guys it’s about more than just getting the money. It’s about respect, honor, and decency toward your fellow man.

Director Meghan Eckman mixes testimony from employees past and present and presents a group who has become a band of brothers of sorts. Some stay for years, while for others it’s just a stop on the path to self-fulfillment. One employee quips, “we were capable of great things, but none of us would ever achieve them,” but that’s not really the case. The film concludes with a wrap up of who ended up where which demonstrates the broad range of careers successfully embarked upon post CPL – despite what some of the customers may have assumed about their blue-collar associates.

Overall the film moves along at a decent pace and keeps the audience in stitches. The only real misstep is with the musical finale that’s funny for about 10 seconds but gets old really fast. All in all the movie makes a pretty convincing case for the parking lot as a representation of all that’s wrong (and some of what’s right) with humanity, and anyone who’s ever worked in a dead end customer service job is bound to appreciate it.

The Upside: A hilarious cast of characters will keep you laughing throughout.

The Downside: The mock rap at the end is more irritating than funny.

On the Side: Since it opened in 1986 Chris Farina has only fired one person – a fellow who was a little too fond of the drink and had regular trouble staying awake. He’s also a friend of the assistant director’s who swears he’s now on the straight and narrow.

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Lauren Flanagan is a freelance film and entertainment writer based in Toronto. She writes for several online and print publications and hopes to one day prove to her parents that sitting around watching movies is in fact doing something with your life. She enjoys gangster movies, long walks on the beach, and getting the upper hand. In her spare time she drives around in a van solving mysteries.

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