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Film Review: “Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars” Succeeds with an Intimate, Brief Look at Its Conflict

Written by: Adam Vaughn | July 12th, 2021

Film poster: “Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars”

Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars (Johnny Sweet, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

As both narratives and documentaries, alike, pour in on the theme of Covid-19, in comes director Johnny Sweet (Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story), whose newest documentary focuses on one part of the country affected heavily by the coronavirus and its fallout. Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars shows how devastating the pandemic was to New York City (specifically in Queens), particularly to the bartenders and restaurant owners, and how being forced to shut down affected them financially, emotionally and mentally. As impactful as Last Call is to the viewer, I only wish that the documentary sought to expand its point of view beyond what seems like but a few street blocks in an enormous metropolis.

Last Call discusses the personal experiences of bartenders such as Jena Ellenwood, Willie McIntyre Jr. (also a rapper) and Braden Williams, as we learn about their backgrounds and follow them in real time as they experience the day-to-day turmoil of the shutdown. Sweet also interviews doctors and physicians in the Big Apple – Dr. Rachelle De La Fuente, Dr. Neeraj Kaushik, and others – who explain in detail exactly how the virus hit the city, and why New York suffered such a tremendous loss due to its vast population. All the while, the intertwining of personal shutdown stories alongside the coronavirus updates and information is what keeps Last Call engaging and dramatic.

Still from LAST CALL: THE SHUTDOWN OF NYC BARS ©Only Child Productions

While the content of the film certainly holds its own compelling weight, I cannot help but feel that Last Call tries to bite off more than it can chew with a runtime of less than an hour. The documentary never seeks to leave its tight perspective of small-time bartenders in Queens. Ultimately, this results in repetitive tones and ideas and becomes a mere recording of small events of a much bigger and impactful story. With such a timely topic as Covid-19, there seems to be so much more that could be told from the perspective of New York, and Last Call never leaves its few locations and people pertinent to its plot.

Even though Last Call never gets out of its own personal space, there’s still much to admire about the film. I appreciated seeing how people kept busy during quarantine, and virtually all of the interviewees had strong personalities (some even found ways to bring much needed comedic relief). The full title, Last Call: The Shutdown of NYC Bars, says it all. It will be what viewers come to see, as shutting down the bars is what happened.

Jena Ellenwood in LAST CALL: THE SHUTDOWN OF NYC BARS ©Only Child Productions

[For information on how to see the film in virtual theaters right now, please click here.]


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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