Film Review — Hollidaysburg

hollidaysburg_posterhollidaysburgRachel Keller, Tobin Mitnick

Hollidaysburg is an interesting independent film from first-time director Anna Martemucci. On the surface, it’s easy to categorize: a “coming-of-age comedy” from the producers of American Pie. It’s a story we’ve seen before – college kids go home for a holiday break, hang out with friends, and ultimately understand what older, presumably wiser people mean when they say “people change.” Fortunately, it does what good storytelling should and tells its story in a way that hasn’t been told before.

Scott (Tobin Mitnick) is an attractive alpha male that was popular in school without trying. He misses being that, so he comes home for a surprise holiday visit. When he gets there, his girlfriend breaks up with him in the middle of sex, and he learns his parents are moving to Florida so he’ll have to spend his holiday packing his room up, with only his older brother to keep him company.

Meanwhile, female lead and film narrator Tori (Rachel Keller) comes home to a family that mostly annoys her, a best friend that greatly annoys her, and a lot of confusion around what doesn’t annoy her. The only thing she’s mostly sure of is that she needs to get as far away from Pittsburgh as possible and stay away forever. Home is bad, the brave new world holds the secrets to happiness, and angst is unavoidable.

Girl hits boy with van. Dramatic moments punctuate will-they-won’t-they. Somebody figures out something deep and meaningful. Everybody heads back to school and begins instantly feeling nostalgic. Roll credits.

Martemucci makes it more interesting than a simple summation of a well-known story by adding depth, realism and heart. It’s a comedy, but it’s not just a comedy. Holidaysburg has an omniscient believability coursing through it, and the result is a relatable holiday weekend instead of a series of tropes.

A strong set of subplots makes sure there’s something interesting in every scene. The greatest of these involves Scott’s brother, Phil (Philip Quinaz), and his search for the perfect pumpkin pie recipe that involves baking a lot of pie. The two actors feel like brothers, and it’s played so straight that you anticipate more family time just to see how absurd they’ll allow it to get. Digging a little deeper though, the scenes can be bittersweet, the levity anchored with the understanding that we’re seeing siblings leaving behind their family home, filling the empty space with comfort food until it’s finally time to flee.

On a side note, Phil’s search for the perfect pumpkin pie absolutely anchors the Thanksgiving theme of the film, and will be the lynchpin that makes this an annual holiday film for more than one household.

A huge assist in the storytelling comes from the visuals. Cinematographer Meena Singh captures the scenes in a way that the audience can feel like they’re wallflowers, just skirting the conversation while still being intimate with the players. Perhaps most importantly, a lot of the film is done outside, and the team manages to add Pittsburgh, and the borough of Hollidaysburg, as a major character in it’s own right, an important feat when one of the emotional underpinnings of your narrative is homesickness.

It’s a great movie, but it’s not quite perfect. A small budget and short shooting schedule leave us with a product that feels truncated. A running time of 88 minutes sounds good on paper, but it really could have used another 20 minutes so Martemucci could give more attention to some of the more interesting fringe characters. While Scott’s now ex-girlfriend Heather (Claire Chapelli) has an interesting arc with Scott’s best friend, pot-dealer Petroff (Tristan Erwin), Tori’s best friend, Katie (Kate Boyer), isn’t given nearly enough attention, especially when we discover where her story is going. There are a lot of connections, a requirement for a well-realized group of people, but sometimes those connections aren’t as immediately apparent to the audience.

Additionally, the film starts a little stilted as it’s difficult to distinguish between the two main female characters (Tori and Heather), making the opening ten or so minutes a wee confusing. Once we get to know the actresses, it’s easy to distinguish between them, but Pittsburgh in the winter means big clothes, warm hats and hair down around the face, so initial representations need starker clarity.

Overall, though, it’s a strong presentation from a director that knows how to realize a vision. I’m looking forward to a sophomore feature, and to watching it again on Thanksgiving with the others that aren’t that into football.

hollidaysburgRachel Keller, Tobin Mitnick
Score: B+

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