DVD Review: At The Drive-In

STUDIO: MVD Visual | DIRECTOR: Alexander Monelli
RELEASE DATE: April 9, 2019 | PRICE: DVD $13.65
BONUSES: commentaries, deleted scenes, Q&A from Alamo Drafthouse screening
SPECS: NR | 79 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

A bittersweet tribute to the drive-in movie theater experience, At the Drive-In focuses on the Leighton, Pennsylvania-based Mahoning Drive-In, an outside theater that’s been around for 60 years and struggles daily to stay open.

One of the few hundred “ozoners” still operating, the Mahoning gets by, barely, thanks to the volunteer efforts of its crew, a colorful cast of characters we get acquainted with throughout the film, which chronicles a season in a life of the beloved outdoor showplace and those who love it.

The folks at the Mahoning are shown for their quirkiness and camaraderie yet the specter of the thousands of drive-ins that have shuttered over the years remains ominously over their shoulders. At the beginning of the chronicled season, Jeff, the theater’s amicable owner, must face the reality that the theater industry has made a shift to digital projection, something his establishment just can’t afford. His way of combating the problem is to continue to show 35mm film using the theater’s ancient projectors with screenings of classic movies on the Mahoning’s gigantic single Cinemascope screen. But will people attend double features of The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Jaws and Jurassic Park for $10 a head?

Along with the resourceful owner, we meet Matt and Virgil, Jeff’s two young partners, who bring their acumen for social media and movie buff knowledge to the theater and join the struggle to keep the place operating. There’s also a cook, refreshment stand attendants, unusual customers and others who share their desire to keep their love for watching movies under the stars going even though the deck is stacked against them.

Filmmaker Alexander Monelli offers a loving picture postcard of a moviegoing experience stuck in time, where there are potato sack races for the kids, adults and their offspring wearing Jason masks for a night of Friday the 13th installments and a threatening rainstorm that can make a major impact on the Mahoning’s survival.

At the Drive-In’s first half is its strongest, as we’re taken in by the cast of offbeat characters, their roles at the drive-in and their genuine affection and dedication for what they do for little or no pay. There is also some tension as a print for Jaws doesn’t show up and a solution to show the film must be devised —and pronto! As the film winds down and the drive-in season is about to end, however, At the Drive-In becomes more anecdotal and meandering. Also, a few more historical facts about drive-ins could have informed novices of their history and place in American pop culture.

Still, the movie remains affectionate and nostalgic, just like the young women greeting patrons on opening night at the drive-in, dressed as Dorothy, Toto and all.

Buy or Rent At The Drive-In
on DVD

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.