As a young lass, I spent many evenings carousing the aisles of my neighborhood major video rental chain in search of the newest kids movie, only for the ten copies to be all rented out, so I would resort to something intellectual like The Stupids for the hundredth time. It was one of the most comforting places to be, and I most certainly took it for granted. The Last Blockbuster perfectly encapsulates that place, complete with nostalgia driven existential crisis (in a good way, don't worry).
A quick Google search of the doc pulls up the tagline, “The manager of the last Blockbuster video store struggles to keep the store open,” but it’s much more than that. Throughout the film we’re brought into the world of Sandi, the owner of the Bend, Oregon Blockbuster. Sandi introduces us to her store and her family, who share the same passion that it takes to keep the brick and mortar store operational. It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of Blockbuster video as a company, from taking over the mom and pop video rental businesses at its height, to becoming a single mom and pop establishment today. When you get the full picture, it starts to make sense why this film is on its chosen streaming platform. The karma is quite real in this sense. However, the community is strong in Bend, OR, and I really appreciated hearing the stories of the local residents’ relationship with Sandi’s store. There are some great cameos from notable faces like Kevin Smith, Ione Skye, Lloyd Kaufman, and so many more. But what I think is interesting is that the majority of the stories shared stem from their own adolescence and it's apparent the film wants us to understand how special video rental stores were for generations of kids and teens. It’s something many Americans above the age of twenty remember as being solely a tangible place. The remaining location over in Bend, Oregon is still serving up that magical physicality. People from all over the world visit the store, sometimes to rent movies, sometimes to meet the owner and thank her, but mostly folks just want to exist in a time that doesn’t exist anymore.
The first half of The Last Blockbuster soars with flying colors, blue and yellow to be exact. But it starts to dip towards the end when we follow comedian Doug Benson around the store for a wildly drawn out bit that feels like eternity. It completely took me out of the story and could easily be cut for the third act’s sake.
It’s strange to think about Blockbuster being defunct, because the company has always been there in the back of my mind. From the dwindling store count to the switch over to the mail-in program and eventually migrating to online streaming. I remember during a vacation in Summer 2014 when the Bass Lake, Indiana store was going out of business, I bought about 30 DVDs all casually like it was no big deal. Back in 2018 I visited my cousin who lives in Bend and I didn’t make it a priority to visit one of the few remaining Blockbusters. At that time, the Alaska ones were still open and it didn’t seem so pressing for some reason. We ended up not being able to go after all. I’m still kicking myself for that one, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it back out there to see what is now, in fact, the last Blockbuster. Hopefully it will still be with us by the time it’s safe enough to travel again. If you share this same sort of frustration, or just want to know what happened to the company, it will definitely bring you some piece of mind. The Last Blockbuster is now streaming, not so coincidentally, on Netflix.