Hollidaysburg Review

Posted: September 24, 2014 in Comedy, Drama, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

HollidaysburgThe Chair is a reality show airing on the Starz channel. Two aspiring filmmakers have been given funding and provided with the same script and shooting location (Pittsburgh). Their films – Not Cool and Hollidaysburg – were released on iTunes on September 23.

Hollywood (and we’ll use Hollywood as shorthand for American filmmakers) has an ongoing struggle with the portrayal of teens in movies. While audiences are accustomed to actors in their late (and later than that) twenties squeezing into teen roles like a pair of too-tight pants, they expect, at a minimum, for the behavior and situations to be representative of what they perceived to be commonplace for those on the cusp of adulthood. When that does not happen, it is difficult for the movie to succeed. Anna Martemucci’s new film, Hollidaysburg, fails to convey a convincing portrait of teenagers returning to their small western Pennsylvania town during Thanksgiving break of their freshman year at college, and this failure overshadows much of the good work contained in her effort.

Martemucci seems at war with her material. Her teens talk of death, Updike, North Dakota, and unemployment. They resdiscover the joys of dry humping and charades. They welcome big sister and her lesbian fiance into the family, and exchange hugs and pumpkin pie recipes with big brother on the day before they move out of the family house. They are meditative, almost sedated, in their outlook as if all hormones have been drained from their bodies and replaced with a IV drip of lorazepam. In short, they’re not teens – they’re 20-somethings caught in a time warp that has them trapped in their home town on Thanksgiving as 19-year olds.

The story, from a screenplay initially provided by Dan Schoffer, but clearly adapted by Martemucci, focuses on four young people from the town of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania (a honest-to-God place just outside of Altoona). Prom King Scott (Tobin Mitnick) comes back during his first semester at UCLA to discover that his parents have moved out and headed to Florida, leaving the stoner old brother to shephard their belongings southward. Mom and Dad playing Ding Dong Ditch with their youngest strains credulity, but all the parental units in the film, those present and absent, are unconvincing with the exception of Tori’s Superbitch mother.

Tori (Rachel Keller) is the late bloomer, the one who is thriving at school in Pittsburgh. Scott was her seventh grade crush, and he’s suddenly back on the market because he’s been dumped in flagrante delicto by his high school sweetheart, Heather (Claire Chapelli). Heather wants to drop out of Penn State and work at Dad’s sports bar, but in the meantime, she’s making eyes at Scott’s best friend, Petroff (Tristan Erwin), the stay-at-home weed dealer. It’s more slice-of-life than coming-of-age for this quartet, a group so world weary that you half expect them to start shuffling around the house in their bathrobes and yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay the hell off their yards.

Erwin fares the best out of this bunch, with a nice, even-toned performance as the one left behind. He is reminiscent of the character actor, Curtis Armstrong, best known for his roles in Risky Business and Revenge of the Nerds. Mitnick has a disconcerting habit of closing his eyes halfway through a line reading and does not have the glibness expected of his character. Keller is fine, but not memorable, while Chapelli unintentionally goes from gorgeous to frumpy in a heartbeat, depending on whether she’s shot from the side or the front.

Martemucci herself appears in the film as the lesbian fiance stricken with a vocal cord injury, an example of where the film tries to be quirky but comes off as contrived. She does have a nice screen presence, and is soft as a whisper, so it would be nice to see her in a more significant role. As a director, she seems most comfortable with intimacy; the male-female interactions are touching and ring true. The group dynamics are less succesful. For example, the staging of a fight between Scott and Petroff is notably awkward. She also needs to work through and find the visual style that best suits her. She experiments with split screens and text message graphics here, both of which go against the grain of the indy look Martemucci is most comfortable with.

This young director also needs to stay with material closer to her artistic vision at this point in her career. With Hollidaysburg, Matremucci has answered a question not asked. While that strategy can work as an adult, it often results in a lower grade when you try it in high school or college.

Two stars.

 

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