'Hollidaysburg': Film Review

Hollidaysburg Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Starz

Hollidaysburg Still - H 2014

Familiar themes handled in refreshingly low-key and sensitive fashion

This is one of two films created under the auspices of the Starz reality television series "The Chair" vying for a $250,000 prize

First, a little backstory: Anna Martemucci’s debut feature is one of two films created under the auspices of the Starz reality television series The Chair, in which two burgeoning filmmakers were given the opportunity to make a movie based on the same original screenplay. Being released in theaters on opposite coasts a week apart, this effort and Shane Dawson’s Not Cool are vying for a cool $250,000 prize.

Despite its gimmicky provenance, Hollidaysburg proves to be a nicely low-key, unassuming coming-of-age tale about a group of former high school friends reuniting in their Pennsylvania small town during Thanksgiving college break. Featuring appealing performances by its young cast of unknowns and enough well-observed moments to make its all too familiar themes feel reasonably fresh, it marks a strong industry calling card for its tyro director.

The anecdotal storyline concerns the typical issues revolving around friends, family and romance likely to be engendered on such an occasion. Former prom king Scott (Tobin Mitnick) is unceremoniously dumped mid-coitus by his unhappy girlfriend Heather (Claire Chapelli). Adding to his misery is the news that his parents have sold their house and are moving to Florida.

Reuniting with his childhood friend Tori (Rachel Keller) in meet-cute fashion—she accidentally hits him with her car—he soon discovers that his feelings for her have turned romantic. She, meanwhile, is struggling with having to spend time with her difficult family and reexamining her relationship with her former best friend Katie (Kate Boyar).

Heather, who wants to drop out of college, becomes intrigued with Scott’s sardonic friend Petroff (Tristan Erwin), who subsidizes his income working at a pizza parlor by selling pot.

The interactions among the characters, frequently telegraphed by onscreen text messages, are hardly dramatically or comedically revelatory. But director Martemucci, who grew up in the real-life titular town (the film was shot in nearby Pittsburgh), has a firm and affectionate grasp on the milieu. Dan Schoffer’s screenplay, which includes such winning lines as Scott’s genial brother (Philip Quinaz) advising his sibling, “C’mon, let’s go eat our feelings” after the pair get high, thankfully never resorts to cheap humor at the expense of the characters.   

Despite its obviously low budget, the film looks terrific, with Meena Singh’s cinematography making excellent use of the atmospheric locations.

Production: Hello Please, Point Park University, Shaderville, Steeltown Entertainment

Cast: Rachel Keller, Tobin Mitnick, Claire Chapelli, Tristan Erwin, Kate Boyer, Philip Quinaz

Director: Anna Martemucci

Screenwriter: Dan Schoffer

Producers: Julie Buck, Josh Hetzler, Josh Shader

Executive producers: Deborah Acklin, Ronald Allan-Lindblom, Nelson Chipman, Neal Dodson, Paul Hennigan, Frederick Johnson, Carl Kurlander, George Long, Chris Moore, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto, Lisa Smith-Reed

Director of photography: Meena Singh

Editor: Charlie Porter

Production designer: Rob Long

No rating, 88 min.