“Christmas at the Drive-In” is not a great movie

Screen capture from Christmas at the Drive-In, now showing on the Great American Family channel. You can see the drugstore-sized parking lot and the small, diamond McCarthy Drive-In sign.

Partly from fascination, partly so you won’t have to, I watched the entirety of “Christmas at the Drive-In” (CatD) over the weekend. The movie is competent and has a few good lines, but it’s not what I would call good.

At some point between the original synopsis (quoted in my previous post and on The Cinemaholic site) and the movie, the producers made a couple of changes. Instead of the Chesterfield Drive-In in Chesterfield NY, the focus of the movie is on the McCarthy Drive-In in Brenington, no state mentioned. Those names sound real, but from what I can tell, there has never been a drive-in theater named McCarthy nor a city named Brenington. (I hope that’s how to spell Brenington, since it was only mentioned and never displayed.)

I could go on a very long rant ticking off CatD’s many shortcomings, but that wouldn’t benefit anyone. The most relevant issue was the drive-in set itself, which was about the size of a Walgreens parking lot. In a fictional show, I know I should allow for a certain suspension of disbelief, but the viewing field held maybe two dozen cars. Since part of the plot hinged on the McCarthy returning to sustainable attendance, the clearly undersized lot was jarring.

The miniscule drive-in was one facet of CatD’s aggressively low-budget filming. Once that guiding principle got stuck in my head, I couldn’t unsee it. Every scene with mostly non-speaking extras, every substitute location, the odd patterns of faux snow, they all distracted me from the by-the-numbers plot.

There were good points too. The plucky lawyer-turned-teacher heroine gave a pivotal speech asserting that drive-in theaters were like Christmas. “Christmas is all about friends and neighbors coming together in a shared experience, creating memories that last a lifetime,” she said. “Christmas is a beautiful tradition, and so is the drive-in.” Later, she told a friend that she had researched some northern drive-ins that stayed open year-round and accurately described some of their strategies for dealing with the cold.

CatD required almost 15 minutes of heavy exposition to set up its absurd premise: The city orders the guy trying to sell the drive-in to work with the heroine trying to preserve it, to show that it can be profitable in December. But once the movie reached that point, it became a slow, straightforward, competent romance. Acting performances ranged from adequate to pretty good.

If you love made-for-cable Christmas romance movies, well, you’re not me. You might enjoy “Christmas at the Drive-In.” Personally, I’m still looking a movie with more drive-in in it.

“Christmas at the Drive-In” is coming

A scene from Christmas at the Drive-In, copied from the Great American Family channel web site. The outdoor concession stand pictured in the background doesn’t fill me with hope for an accurate ozoner depiction.

Christmas is a time where there typically isn’t a whole lot of drive-in theater news to report. There are scattered holiday markets or expanded flea markets, but that seems mundane. I found something else that sounds odd, but at least it might be interesting.

The Great American Family channel premiered an original movie, Christmas at the Drive-In, on Thanksgiving weekend this year. (It’s showing again on Thursday, Dec. 8, and probably again later in the season.) The synopsis says the movie is about a woman who returns to her home town, Chesterfield NY, to save its drive-in theater by helping it acquire historic preservation status or something like that. She becomes frenemies with the new owner, who just inherited the Chesterfield Drive-In from his late father. Could there be holiday romance brewing? Will they need to work together to save the beloved drive-in?

Update: Despite the “Chesterfield”s in the original synopsis, the movie wisely switched to the fictional McCarthy Drive-In in Brenington. More details in the next post.

(I confess that I don’t understand the allure of this kind of Christmas movie, and I especially don’t understand why dozens of them flood the airwaves every holiday season. Is there some special factor about them, or are they strictly for folks who enjoy reading lots of romance novels? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I digress.)

I was surprised at the amount of detail I could find about its shooting locations at The Cinemaholic site, though it left me with more questions than answers. All of the photography took place in northern Ontario in September 2022. Most of it was at North Bay, on the shore of Lake Nipissing, with some scenes shot in Sudbury. Those are great places to get cold in early autumn, but what’s missing from those locations is anything that would look like a potentially historic drive-in theater. The Horizon Drive-In travels northern Ontario with a pop-up screen that it inflates at various locations, but surely they wouldn’t use that, would they?

I haven’t seen the movie. I saw a 30-second trailer on YouTube; there are issues. From glimpses in the background of the small viewing field, it looks like they really are using that inflatable screen. A photo at the official movie web site shows the protagonists in front of an outdoor concession stand. I know that such outdoor stands used to exist, but it’s much more common for even historic drive-ins to serve up their snacks indoors.

What I find ironic is that, although the real town of Chesterfield NY never had a drive-in, right across Lake Champlain in Colchester VT, the Sunset Drive-In has been active since 1948 and is still open. That would have been the perfect stand-in for a fictional historic drive-in; too bad it’s more expensive to film in Vermont than in Ontario.

Anyway, if you want to see a modern-day depiction of what someone thinks drive-ins are like, feel free to tune in this season.

Video: Kingston Family FunWorld Sold

CKWS, Kingston ON’s News Leader, reported some sad news yesterday evening. The Kingston Family FunWorld, which includes a three-screen drive-in, has been sold, and the story sounds like the new buyer isn’t interested in the place for its amusement facilities.

The drive-in has been around for “almost five decades,” according to the CKWS story, owned and operated by the Wannemacher family. Under Dan Wannemacher’s guidance, they added a go-kart track, batting cages, and mini golf. But Dan passed away suddenly three years ago, and the family says it’s time to move on.

The drive-in will stay open through Sept. 1. “The best thing for me is knowing how much this place impacted a lot of Kingstonians and I think we’ll always be in peoples’ hearts,” said Trish Wannemacher.

I wish I could link to the video, which shows a few glimpses of what might be the FunWorld’s final days, but you can watch it here. If you want to see the whole article, then you know you need to go read it!