I’m usually not a person who tunes in to a reality TV show. Dancing this, amazing that. Loser, winner, I couldn’t care less. It’s all half-baked. Yet, in some way, having recently binged on the first five (of 10) episodes of Starz Networks “The Chair”–—which pits an internet phenom and an obsessive-compulsive against one another for a $250,000 payout–—I’m hooked. Their task? To direct a first feature film from the same original screenplay.
Now, without knowing the contents of the envelope, so to speak, the series’ producers have unleashed both works, “Hollidaysburg,” by Anna Martemucci, and “Not Cool” by Shane Dawson, on to the world, with New York and Los Angeles engagements “before expanding in a platform release throughout October.” I’d be wary about how far either of these birds will fly. They’ll be available for digital release by the time you read this. We won’t find out the winner until later this year.
Within the limited budgets offered the two contestants and the confined schedule, not to mention having each cast and crew being followed about by another director and crew, it’s not difficult to imagine the outcome. Regrettably this film is the least memorable. It has some good acting, decent production values, but it underwhelms. “Not Cool” works and looks better.
Martemucci, an actor-writer-director-taskmaster, was constantly re-writing Dan Schoffer’s script (his first produced). I suspect the budding screenwriter had creative issues with the over-loosened version that became “Hollidaysburg.” In “The Chair,” he’s definitely upset that his original vision in “How Soon Is Now,” the screenplay’s original title, has been torn asunder. Although press material gives him sole credit, onscreen it is Martemucci and her longtime producers at Periods. Films, the brothers Victor and Philip Quinaz, who get mentioned above Schoffer.
Compared side-by-side, you’d barely think the two films were related, although most of the character names remain the same and one scene involved a car hitting a pedestrian appears in both. In this movie, it’s a milder rom-com without much com.
As high school friends return to their home town on their first break from college life, we are assaulted with a very awkward opening sequence, introducing the loquacious Scott Karazewski (Tobin Mitnick), back from UCLA, in the sack with his horribly depressed girl friend, Heather Zerilli (Claire Chapelli), just in from Penn State. “I think about dying. A lot.” she explains to him, aware of his concern about her morose demeanor. “But other than that, school’s fine.”
Geez, that’s the opening we get? It’s not only Scott who’s shellshocked, most of the viewers might be wondering if a black humor variant of Woody Allen has entered the room. But wait, it’s not New York City. It’s Pittsburgh.
And Hollidaysburg. Now, that’s fine, and the city is put to good use, but for fans of “The Chair” (the few, the brave), the truly cold climate doesn’t warm things up. Things aren’t always sunny in Philadelphia. It’s really bleak in Pittsburgh.
Ah. Got sidetracked. So Scott stumbles to his house to find his parents have quite quickly moved to Florida (he never returns calls or email), and is left to finish packing with his stoner brother Phil (Philip Quinaz). The pumpkin pie-obsessed sibling provides nearly all of the film’s comic relief. Also returning home from Carnegie Mellon is Tori Humilovich (Rachel Keller), a pretty coed and part of an overbearing family that takes the holiday very seriously. She’s got a clingy, wicked witch best friend, Katie Krake (Kate Boyer). Scott’s best pal, pot-dealer Will Petroff (Tristan Erwin), ends up in a relationship with need-weed, wannabe dropout Heather, while Scott pairs up with the sensitive Tori.
The usual antics ensue. The film plays along with a generic succession of scenes, the relationships intercutting, occasionally under Heather’s sedate narration.
The hormones run hot in Pennsylvania. The weather, cold. The talk is constant. The marijuana plentiful. The action minimal. One slice of pizza. Some nice slices of life abound. And the social media messages fly across the screen with small, ho-hum frequency. There’s probably too many executive producers (12!) cowering over the film for Martemucci to have a decent say in “Hollidaysburg,” although she did manage to give it a good rhythm. Any bumps along the snow-filled roads are conveniently smoothed out in the end. And we’ve all seen that before.