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April 23, 2016

The Parking Lot Movie

by Franz Patrick


Parking Lot Movie, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

If there is anything that director Meghan Eckman is able to support, it is that no subject is too small, even seemingly boring ones, as long as it is specific. In “The Parking Lot Movie,” she takes a look at a diverse group parking attendants employed by Chris Farina, who has owned the business since 1986, at The Corner Parking Lot, located opposite the University of Virginia and behind a restaurant. Though it is far from a glamorous job, the attendants seem to enjoy it. Although it has its challenges, it is often slow. According to one of them, essentially, they “get paid to do nothing.”

There is something to be said about movies I started off hating and then, through careful navigation amidst the unexpected, eventually earning some of my affections. Initially, while I thought the employees seem to be nice people, guys I wouldn’t mind interacting with in real life, I found most of them to be slackers who complained a lot in a lot which is neither intellectually stimulating nor emotionally rewarding. Their complaining annoyed me. To me, a job is only as good as a person who chooses to keep it.

During the first twenty minutes or so, the faux insights and would-be philosophical questions rubbed me the wrong way: they sound deep on the surface but when we take a chance to dive in, we are greeted with cement. I thought that for all the time they had “introspecting,” they had nothing particularly interesting to say.

But then the film begins to get into the details of the job. We get a tour of the tiny booth and what can be found inside. We are shown the walls and how it is lined by cardboard. On it are written or pasted messages related to being a parking attendant. Many of them are dull, some are amusing, and a few reveal a common thread. The employees are mostly graduate students in philosophy, anthropology, and sociology and they feel alienated, some are downright enraged, by people with an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

While they make generalizations about members of fraternities and sororities during the interviews, the images captured on film support that there are some truths to their claims. I went to a university and though I am friends with some people who were a part of Greek organizations, I must say that, based on what I have seen, some of their friends acted like they should be exempt from certain rules or that they should be treated in a special way just because they were members of Kappa-Delta-whatever. But there are exceptions and I wished the picture acknowledged that not all individuals who are a part of the Greek circle are arrogant jerks.

The most enthralling snapshots of the job involve people who refuse to pay the requisite fees after having parked. For example, after one of the attendants, Mark Schottinger, a singer-songwriter who, in my opinion, deserves a major recording contract, performed a song with his guitar, a lady pulled up to exit the lot. When he came to collect the money she owed, she was adamant in not paying. It made me wonder what I would have done in that situation.

Granted, I could not really hear her argument. The only reason I could come up with was that maybe she had parked for only five minutes and she was angry about having to pay for an hour’s worth. But the rules were posted: prior to entering the complex and signs within the area. And since it could not be any more obvious that it was a private lot, the fact is, one had to pay when one wished to leave. She had no good reason to give the guy a hard time. I agreed with one of the guys: if you can pay thousands of dollars for a massive vehicle, gas-guzzlers, you should have no problem paying parking fees. Is a dollar—or three dollars—really worth the aggravation?

“The Parking Lot Movie” takes about a third of its running time to get going. But once it does, its content is interesting and does not waver. It surprised me because I did not think that so much drama can happen in a small parking lot.

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