The Last Blockbuster (2020)

“The reason I do what I do is because of movies.”

From the outside looking in, if you weren’t one of those kids who wasted a parent’s entire night combing through alphabetized aisles or one of those eventual adults who lost all sense of time in a video rental store, this documentary might seem quite odd. Why mourn with great nostalgia for a company that effectively ended Mom and Pop shops? The question is so valid, and while the corporatization aspect makes the documentary inherently less personal, The Last Blockbuster nevertheless is a last dog standing look at a shared communal space where we all got to find ourselves and get lost at the same time. It works well in that regard.

More often than not timing matters as much as party and place, all three of which apply to the titular video store, which is the last remaining ripple of what once was a towering tsunami. It’s in the small town of Bend, Oregon. And it’s the kind of locale where the hardworking owner Sandi Harding is seen as a bit of a mother to the community. Countless kids had their first jobs there behind the counter, greeting customers and ringing up the old school register. Sandi made her store an unyielding and solid staple of Bend, but we see that through circumstance she grows increasingly unsure if she’ll be able to keep her doors open, especially as the empire crumbles one by one everywhere around her. For roaming cinephiles, it’s like watching the reels of Rome fall in real time.

And that’s pretty much where my biggest gripe with the film lies. It’s informative, but it’s simply more interesting to learn and to hear about how important this curated and constructed institution is to its community members than it ever is to hear memories from a menagerie of mostly C-list celebrities reminiscing about an eventually inept place of business that literally swallowed up local rental shops. It doesn’t make sense to mourn the loss of a loan shark, but The Last Blockbuster suggests we should, and while the VH1 style editing lacks performance and an up to date personality, it still points us to a place of real remembrance and attachment. Where civility can come from returning a rental on time and from acting with a Be Kind Rewind mindset. Despite its poor business decisions, there was still a wholesomeness to the experience Blockbuster catered.

While the investigative aspects work well and can be enlightening at times, this doc is at its best when it’s operating from a raw and less sophisticated point of view, allowing space for intimate dialogue about how and why a corporate leech could be mourned so ceremoniously. And as someone who’s bought and rented from just about every place under the sun, it all boils up an reduces down to a fervent love for cinema. I miss Blockbuster and yet I miss the small shops more, but The Last Blockbuster blends the two together with enough color and character to appeal to the importance of physical media, how vital touch is as a sense and how something tangible is inherently more real, even if this picture is as ironically underwhelming as every basic Blockbuster’s own documentary section.

“It’s tangible. It’s a lot.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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