Totally Random Movies: Jasper Mall (2020)

With so many choices in the world of movies — from physical media to streamers — it can be hard to figure out what to watch. So, I’ve randomized the process!

One of the streamers I get the most enjoyment out of is Amazon Video. First off, they have a ton of great, weird stuff on there, but even more importantly, they have the party watch feature. Thanks to that, a bunch of friends and I were able to watch movies together throughout the pandemic, which was a major touchstone of sanity (or insanity) during some pretty dark times. I haven’t been able to make the calls nearly as often now that the world is rolling right along again, but I still love the oddball selection.

With some help from a random number generator I found my way to Jasper Mall a documentary from a few years ago by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb. I didn’t know anything about this movie going in, but if you’re going to make a movie about a mall, I’m probably going to watch it. Heck, I wrote a list of great mall scenes for Topless Robot way back and frequented the Franklin Park Mall back in Toledo after graduating from college (I was a little behind the times in that regard, I guess). And, of course, I love Mallrats.

Anyway, this doc follows the people who work at and frequent a shopping center that, like most of its ilk, isn’t doing so well. There’s the guy who runs security, the woman who runs a fake flower shop, a pair of young women contemplating leaving town, men who play dominoes and a couple high school kids navigating life. As you might expect, it’s sad as many of the storefronts empty out — including the guitar-playing jewelry repair guy — but those left behind need to carry on. There’s even a scene where the security guy interviews a kid for an opening in his department…even though the kid came in looking for a job at one of the stores.

Unfortunately, the movie just didn’t land with me. Even with all of the interesting characters I mentioned, there isn’t much of a through-line. Sometimes I’m down for the “year in the life” type docs, but this one was tough because it felt like there wasn’t much to really latch onto. I went in with an open mind, looking for someone to guide me through on this journey, but that person just wasn’t there. I guess it’s the security guy who winds up veering into Tiger King territory out of nowhere later on in the film. Whatever the reason, I felt like the movie was keeping me at a distance and I could not connect to it. It didn’t help that the subject made me think of the Bright Sun Films channel on YouTube, which has a much different style that I’ve gotten very used to over the past few years.

This was a bummer all the more because Whitcomb and Thomason also did The Rock-afire Explosion, a doc I watched over ten years ago and remember really enjoying. That movie’s about nostalgia, obsession, music, fandom, entertainment and the history of a business. I wish there was more of that in Jasper Mall. Anyway, it’s criminally difficult to see The Rock-Afire Explosion anymore, but you can follow this Amazon Associates link if you want to buy a DVD copy (thanks if you do). You can also buy a Blu-ray of Jasper Mall if you feel so inclined.

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