The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The Starz cable channel has an addictive new show called The Chair. The premise is simple yet fascinating. Two different filmmakers are given the same script and tasked with making a movie from it. They're allowed to rewrite, but they have to stick to the plot that was laid out for them. Then both films are released theatrically and on VOD. The audience will determine who did the better job, and that person will be awarded $250,000. One of the contestants, Shane Dawson, is a YouTube star. The other, Anna Martemucci, has an extensive resume writing short films and one indie feature. Her movie is called Hollidaysburg, named after a town in Pennsylvania.

This is a coming-of-age story about a group of old friends returning home from freshman year at college for Thanksgiving break. Scott (Tobin Mitnick) came all the way back from California, only to be unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend Heather (Claire Chapelli). She, meanwhile, is thinking of dropping out of college altogether and just staying home. Tori (Rachel Keller) comes back to a family that she finds embarrassing, making her realize that perhaps she's outgrown her hometown. Scott and Tori are reunited and begin a fling. The question they both share is whether they can make it work or whether they're simply reverting back to high school versions of themselves.

On the plus side, Martemucci certainly has some strengths to suggest she may someday become a really good filmmaker. Hollidaysburg looks good and makes great use of music. Individual scenes have snappy dialogue and/or witty jokes. She gets authentic performances from her cast, choosing the right actors for the right roles, then guiding them to play emotions as truthfully as possible. It's also apparent that she's interested in telling human-based stories, which are always highly sought-after.

Beyond those things, though, Hollidaysburg is kind of a mess. Martemucci, who rewrote Dan Schoffer's original script with Victor and Phillip Quinaz (her husband and brother-in-law), does a poor job establishing the characters. They have familiarity with each other, but we don't have familiarity with them, and the film doesn't give it to us early on. The story jumps right in without taking the time to properly introduce us to the people we'll be following for 87 minutes. For that reason, it can be difficult to remember who's who, how they're connected, what their histories are together, and how they feel about one another. By the time I finally figured everything out, I no longer cared. There's also a strange lack of specificity in the film. All the characters have a weird, generalized ennui. You don't get much detail on what their issues are or why they're all so unhappy. Hollidaysburg clearly wants to be meaningful, but without sufficient development of character and motivation, it ends up being an empty experience.

Of course, if you watch The Chair, it's pretty obvious that the director was in a pressure cooker situation, dealing with a lot of the typical low-budget indie obstacles with the added stress of having a camera crew record it all. If Hollidaysburg is no masterpiece, it's hardly a surprise. The pictures made on HBO's similarly-themed Project Greenlight - Stolen Summer, The Battle of Shaker Heights and Feast - were no great shakes either. Maybe a reality show isn't the best way for a first-time director to launch his/her career. It makes for great TV viewing, if not great film watching. So we won't hold it against Anna Martemucci. She's got talent. Hopefully, the mistakes of this movie will teach her things she can use to make something more effective next time.

( out of four)

Note: Check out my review of the competing film, Shane Dawson's Not Cool.

Hollidaysburg is unrated, but contains adult language, sexuality, and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.

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