Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict: "Back to the Drive-In" (2023)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In their  “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema, sometimes old, sometimes new. For this installment, it’s Uncork’d Entertainment’s Back to the Drive-In, a documentary film about drive-in theaters which found themselves thriving during the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now face a bit of uncertainty as things have settled into new normal.

Joseph:  You might expect a documentary titled Back to the Drive-In to trade heavily on nostalgia, but rather than focusing on the heyday of outdoor cinema, writer/director April Wright instead takes a loving look at the modern state of affairs for drive-in theaters. She films drive-in owners and employees in several states, who discuss the boon that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to these businesses and the more difficult times that they face now that other forms of entertainment, including hardtop cinemas, have reopened. Wright does a fine job of capturing the joy of these people, some of whom now work at or own drive-ins that they frequented as youngsters. Back to the Drive-In delves wonderfully into the human interest behind the struggles to keep this American tradition alive for future generations, especially as in one case, where drive-in owners sold the property for an amount of money that it would take them 25 years to make if they stayed in business.

Mike: We’ve talked about the drive-in theater experience on the podcast a number of times, so this was definitely a movie we wanted to check out. 
April Wright (writer/director) has put together an interesting, and sobering, look at a handful of theaters that experienced a bit of a comeback when COVID hit.  Running the gamut from a theater that is part of a successful chain to a built-in-the-backyard location, there are a fairly wide variety of experiences featured within, and each one seems to have its own hurdles while also sharing many in common.  Wright does a good job of capturing the various owners, the history, and, in the (relatively) short time we spend with them, the enthusiasm each has towards their and their theater’s future is quite obvious. 
Joseph: The sound quality is lacking in some interviews, as interviewee’s voices compete with background noise such as wind gusts outside and the hustle and bustle of a snack bar inside. The editing is sometimes repetitive, too, but I appreciated what some others might find annoying: restating the names and locations of each drive-in as the focus of the interviews went back and forth.

Mike: A little bit of drive-in history would have helped those not too familiar with the experience, and would have gone a long way towards helping the viewer empathize and understand the owners. Personally, I’m a fan of hearing what the filmmaker’s thoughts are on the subject they’re covering. Even just a short intro and summary from Wright would have helped establish a bit of a mission statement for the existence of this film and her interest in the subject.
Joseph: The message of this film is simple: Support your local drive-in theater . . . and any one you come across on your travels. I wholeheartedly concur with this ideal. Back to the Drive-In is both a captivating valentine to, and an urgent public service announcement about, drive-in theaters. Let’s all go to the lobby!

Mike: If, like us, you were or are a fan of the drive-in, you will most likely enjoy this for the most part. Without a little more historical context than just the length of time the theater has been around, some of the owners come across as a bit too whiny since most of what the film deals with is the crash that followed the boom of early COVID days.  There are, however, some bright spots with a few of the success stories that are encouraging for the future of the drive-in as a viable form of the movie-going experience. 

Back to the Drive In from Uncork’d Entertainment is now streaming

Back to the Drive-In
Directed By: April Wright
Written By: April Wright
Starring:  Mission Tiki, Wellfleet Drive-In, Field of Dreams Drive-In, and more!
Run Time: 1hr 45min
Rating:  Not Rated
Release Date: March 14th, 2023

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