Taylor Morden’s documentary is a charming, quirky look back at the demise of the home video store.
The smell of buttery popcorn and the sounds of shuffling of plastic cases only paints a partial picture of the era of a trip to a video rental store. During the ’90s, the video store reigned supreme, and there was one giant that ruled them all: Blockbuster. There was once a store opening every seventeen minutes; now they’re reduced to one lone outpost in Bend, Oregon. The rise and fall of this entertainment empire is the subject of Taylor Morden’s documentary The Last Blockbuster. This quirky documentary follows the nostalgia trail, taking us on a journey from Blockbuster’s glory days to its last stand in Bend, Oregon.
Most of Blockbuster’s history is narrated by Lauren Lapkus, who brings a jolt of energy to describe the corporate mergers, 2008 recession, and rise of Netflix that helped contribute to the decline of the video giant. There’s also a fun puppet recreation of the Netflix/Blockbuster meeting, where Blockbuster passed on the chance to buy Netflix. A flashier documentary may have stuck with the stuffy interviews from executives, but The Last Blockbuster is a movie made by fans as a love letter to their fellow video store stans.
Morden enlists a ragtag crew of celebrities like Kevin Smith, Adam Brody, and Paul Scheer, to wax poetic of the legend of video stores. I enjoyed hearing from Smith, Brody, and Scheer, all of whom worked at video stores before making it big in Hollywood. There’s a childlike glee when they reminisce about their time working in video stores, talking about their love of movies, and connecting with a community of film aficionados.
However, the documentary seems to rely on celebrity confessionals a bit too much. Sure I laughed at comedian Ron Funches’s admission he rented games from a closing store so he could own them. It felt conflicting, wondering if I’m supposed to appreciate Funches’s gaming of the system, or feel sad that those who abused the system also led to its downfall? Relying on these celebrities to recount their generic experiences distracted from the charm of the film.
The confessional I did appreciate was from avid video renter Jared Rasic. A resident of Bend, he’s been renting from the last Blockbuster for years. He has a funny Drunk History recreation of the process of going to the store, selecting a video, and renting it from Sandi. More interviews from loyal fans like Jared would have helped break up the random celebrity interviews, and added more heart to the documentary.
The Last Blockbuster is a love letter to the video fans in all of us.
The real gem of The Last Blockbuster is Sandi Harding, the manager of the last remaining store. She’s a self-labeled “Blockbuster Mom,” a reference to her penchant for employing many teens and her family members in Bend, Oregon. Her “Blockbuster Mom” is also reflected in her dedication to keeping the store in running order. She shops in Target every Tuesday to pick-up new releases. She takes apart the store’s computers by hand, rescuing parts from other computers, to keep the outdated software running. The last Blockbuster store feels less like a remnant of the corporate giant and more like a mom and pop shop, with Sandi acting as the glue holding everything together.
The Last Blockbuster is a love letter to the video fans in all of us. The documentary may be a bit unfocused at times, but perhaps the structure of The Last Blockbuster is reflective of the allure of walking into a video store. You could wander around the aisles, seeing action movies next to screwball comedies, and explore the lovely wide world of cinema. The Bend, Oregon Blockbuster is still open during COVID-19, allowing curbside rentals, and even opening up the shop for pandemic safe movie sleepovers this past August. Perhaps in this era of nostalgia, the video store will return much like that of vinyl record shops. As a video store lover myself, I enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane in The Last Blockbuster. Let’s see if history will pull a “be kind, rewind” and restore video rentals to storefronts in the future.
The Last Blockbuster is currently available in select theaters and VOD.