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I was probably destined to adore this movie.
“Cinema Six” is about a group of co-workers at a rundown movie theater, whiling away their days insulting and being insulted by the customers, hooking up with each other clandestinely, and worrying about never amounting to anything other than slinging popcorn at a movie theater.
Mark Potts and Cole Selix, who co-wrote and co-directed this engaging comedy, know this sort of place in their bones. Their observational humor is spot-on, recognizing the way movie theaters operate as sort of 17th-rate Grand Hotels where people come and go,but nothing ever happens — except for the people who toil there.
I know this world, having worked at the Park Triple (later Park 11) through high school and between college stints. You can practically smell the wafting aroma of stale popcorn in “Cinema Six.”
The employee population at a theater is constantly in flux but always seems to have a similar mix. There are the transient high-schoolers who disappear in a few months, just looking for some extra cash and figuring that working at a place that shows movies will be fun. (“Watch flicks for free! And all the popcorn you can eat!”)
Then there are the smart, ambitious youngsters killing time until the next university semester. They know they’ll get out, so they’re a little less anxious and more apt to crack wise with the customers.
And then there are the handful of people who have been working there for years and carry an air of desperation.
Mason (John Merriman), the assistant manager, is one of the latter. He frets that he’s turning into a lifer but is too scared to make the jump to another job. He’s married and has a baby girl, and, at 31, he’s the wise old man of the crew. The old manager up and quit, so until the owners of the decrepit Stanton Family Cinemas decide otherwise, Mason’s running the show.
Gabe (played by filmmaker Potts) is a wannabe filmmaker dawdling before deciding whether to go to college. As the projectionist, he is the most envied employee, since he gets to hang out in his upstairs cave and avoid getting hassled by patrons.
Chubby and smart, Gabe longs to have a girlfriend but is too afraid to talk to a female — at least until Emaline (Madi Goff) comes along. He bestows upon her the greatest (and only) gift within the power of the exhibitor: free admission to a flick.
Brand Rackle plays Dennis, the assistant assistant manager. He’s a little younger than Mason and torn up by his recent failed engagement.
There isn’t a terrible lot of story in “Cinema Six,” but this is the sort of movie that relies on well-limned portraits of its characters over narrative calisthenics to provide momentum. At that the film excels, perfectly capturing the mood and rhythms of chronic underemployment, where young people cluster in dead-end gigs. The job becomes your life, so even when you’re not working you’re hanging around the place or with your co-workers.
“Cinema Six” has a bit of an amateurish feel to it, with staid cinematography and dialogue that sounds a little too much like screenwriters trying to be clever: “I wish we smoked. Smoking always makes conflicted people look more conflicted.” “Well, yeah, until you get cancer. So I guess there’s good and bad with everything.”
But I was delighted to spend time with this cast. I especially liked Lindsey Newell as Cassie, the caustic girl who’s always in a crappy mood no matter what station she’s working but especially when she gets stuck in concession. Hint: Nobody likes working concession.
(In case you were wondering, the hierarchy of desirable jobs at a movie theater goes like this: concession < doorperson < box office < usher < projectionist.)
I don’t know why, but here’s one archetype that seems to reside on every theater staff: the pretty blonde girl whose daddy is rich enough to buy her a new convertible for her 16th birthday yet insists that she get a job so she’ll learn the value of money by earning enough to pay for 1/70th of the car. (Eloise Kropp adroitly plays her here.)
“Cinema Six” may not have the slickest, most professional veneer to it, but it takes the audience inside a wonderfully untidy world they’ve seen only from the glitzy outside.