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Fall in 'library love' with The Public

Make no mistake: The Public is a crowd-pleaser with a plot that also seems custom-made to promote libraries and librarians everywhere.
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Emilio Estevez directed and stars in this drama that seems custom-suited for Reel Mondays. The Public is about the inestimable social value of public libraries. UNIVERSAL PICTURES/Photo


The Public

Stars: 3.5

Starring Emilio Estevez, Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Jacob Vargas, Gabrielle Union, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, and Michael K. Williams

Rated PG for scenes of coarse language, substance use, violence, and brief nudity

Runtime: 119 minutes

Playing at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25 at the Arden Theatre as part of Reel Mondays.

*Please visit the Arden Theatre's website to prepare yourself for COVID-19 protocols:

A season pass is $50, or you can purchase your tickets for $15 each (plus Eventbrite fees). All proceeds benefit STARFest – St. Albert Readers’ Festival.

Visit for more information.

Contact [email protected] or visit the library's customer service desk if you need assistance with purchasing your tickets, or if you have other questions. As this is a Friends fundraiser, there will be no refunds for unused tickets. Tickets can be purchased online until just before the movie begins, but will not be available in person at the door before the movie.

The Public was destined to be a Reel Mondays film, I'm convinced. After all, this social advocacy drama has a rousing, crowd-pleasing plot that goes over and above to show audiences what makes public libraries great and important places in every city's social fabric.

That being said, you should just go get your ticket now.

The story takes us to Cincinnati as the city braces for a wicked cold snap. There are homeless people out there who rely on the warmth and hospitality — and books and resources — of the public library. When the shelters register full up, the people have nowhere else to go. They go to the library, and they don't leave. One person especially — Michael K. Williams's character, Jackson — leads a sit-in style protest to resist getting the boot.

This puts head librarian Mr. Anderson (Jeffrey Wright) and his support librarians Stuart and Myra (Emilio Estevez and Jena Malone) in the precarious position as the riot police get called in, a crisis negotiator tries to intervene, and local politicians weigh in on the situation.

If it were up to me, libraries would never close.

The film does get a bit ham-handed at times. Look only to the taxidermied polar bear in the library's lobby, a loaner because the museum of natural history is under renovation. "Hey! If a dead animal can stay in the library, then how come the huddled masses trying to stave off death can't?" I heard myself questioning. "Ah ... I get it. It's symbolic of the fight to come in the story," I quickly realized. 

Or what about how Stuart recites Steinbeck off the top of his head — "Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there." You get the sense that writer/director/star Estevez enjoyed laying the symbolism on a bit too thick. He even starts the show off with one of those nostalgic black and white educational film clips about how loving books and loving people are the qualities of a great librarian. Touché.

Still, I couldn't help but fall in love with this story, its working-class heroes who are just as quirky and kooky as the homeless characters, and its easily despisable villains.

My bet is that your seat for the screening at the Arden will probably have at least one librarian within arm's length. If you ask nicely, you might even be able to pat one on the back.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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