Sometimes a geographic location in a documentary becomes its own character, and becomes almost as memorable as a human narrator. Such is the case with the thoroughly entertaining festival hit, “The Parking Lot Movie,” about a tight-knit subculture of graduate philosophers, anthropologists, musicians and skate punks who work as lot attendants at the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville. As one slacker puts it, he's “playing God” on his own little crowded patch of gray concrete.
Director and University of Virginia graduate Meghan Eckman found a witty group of employees past and present to interview (including Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew), and she lets the cameras roll while they draw sweeping analogies about life through their daily run-ins with rude college students and even their irksome alumni parents. It may sound self-righteous at first, but the part-timers' camaraderie and shared sense of the absurd wins out.
Current employees recount stories from their Zen-like workspace, a heavily decorated wood shack where they sit like trolls in judgment. Some employees rehash perilous lot heroics or play traffic cone toss, and others read, but there's always endless vitriol for the “leaders of tomorrow,” namely upper-crust frat boys and sorority girls driving their parents' $50,000 sport utilities and trailing a wake of gross self-entitlement. They treat attendants, often their fellow students, like scum while rudely contesting unpaid sums as little as 40 cents or simply refusing to pay at all. And that's just the day parkers.
At night, things become as sinister as popped pink polo collars can be when heavily intoxicated J. Crew clones puke their way through the lot, some stopping to fornicate on truck bumpers, others rampaging through the decorated parking gate (often two or three times a night), whereupon friendly local cops offer them a choice of either paying $30 to replace the wooden gate arm or being charged with vandalizing property. And society wonders why nobody ever saw it coming.
The film centers on the most hilarious employees and their romantic, low-rent search for egalitarian give-and-take on a human level. “Do we really have to explain capitalism to them?” one asks incredulously after another ticket holder whines about paying. Employees may be self-deprecating, and a few nearly psychotic, but they all seem proud of their time spent in this bizarrely antagonistic monastery. They are real characters in a thinking man's Kevin Smith comedy.
However, nobody but the employees and the jovial lot owner get much say in this movie, however. The documentary could've used more perspective from townies and students who have experienced these smartasses for decades. But that's a nitpicky complaint for a breezy, 90-minute film destined to become a cult classic. We learn that most of the employees capable of self-reflection head off to great jobs, while others remain seduced by the collective hovering, Siddhartha-like, above the rat race.
And really, who would begrudge them that? At least they paid their own tickets. S