Ever wanted to have your own private screening of a favorite movie? We didn’t make that wish, but my wife and I still got it this week after returning to the cinema after almost three years. We shared a 60-person theater with two other ladies. My wife was so happy to be free of distractions and airborne particles from 56 other potential carriers of COVID.

I was delighted that my wife agreed to join me for the new Diane Keaton movie, Mack and Rita, and we chose the 2:05 matinee this past Monday. This would be our smooth, post-COVID-19 return to the world of movies. Despite the availability of streaming during COVID, we never got into it over the past two years. Going to the movies just became a fond memory.

I was wondering what we’ve been missing over the past two-plus years and came across a news report that 72 movies had been postponed due to the pandemic. Some looked familiar and had been released during 2021 and this year. Among them were “Kingsman;” “No Time to Die” (James Bond’s last film); “In the Heights” (a hit Broadway show now on film); “Top Gun” (released only recently); and “My One and Only Ivan” (from a book we sell for middle readers in bookstores.) Many of the other movies were graphic novels or comic books made into movies, like “Avitar” and “Batman.”

When we arrived, the theater parking lot looked pretty full, probably with customers from the 11am showings of the movie, so that was encouraging. But once inside the lobby, there were no people milling around. The experience became very surreal.

The lobby we remembered being packed with people for Saturday night movie outings before the pandemic was eerily quiet. Apart from a table and four chairs, there was no comfortable furniture.

Granted, this was a matinee, but I felt more like I had entered the lobby of a funeral chapel than a movie theater. While several movies were playing, the only other customers we saw seemed to be a group of toddlers on a daycare outing. They marched in very quietly, walked straight to the concession counter and waited for popcorn, candy or drinks. Otherwise, no one showed up.

After the mini-soldiers left for their movie, I went to the concession stand and asked for a medium buttered popcorn, but they were only offering small and large, so I took the plunge. After all, who knew when we’d be back again, so why not get a big one with lots of butter? Acting like a total slob, I dove into the bag of popcorn and promptly decorated my new shorts with more butter than was in the bag. But I was already in popcorn heaven.

After entering the theater, my wife wiped down the seats and table tops with disinfectant and we waited to see who would join us. No one arrived until just before the previews began. Then quietly, two ladies appeared and took seats at the end of our row. And despite our polite silence, we became a cozy foursome.

Out of six previews, two really interested us. Since both will only be in theaters this fall, we decided to go back.

And “Mack and Rita” was great. Diane Keaton, as always, was in her element and her eclectic costumes, her signature in all her films, were the cornerstone of the film.

Our return to the cinema was the highlight of our week. While I can’t guarantee when my wife will want to go to another movie, seeing Mack and Rita was a great first step. While I don’t have any advice for other post-Covid moviegoers, I do encourage you to give movies another chance. We’ll stick with the afternoon matinee and keep hoping for more quasi-private shows.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer and his In the Suburbs appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected].

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