As a prolific writer of short features, Anna Martemucci's first full-length feature, Hollidaysburg, tells the common story of college students returning home for Thanksgiving--their first break of freshman year--and coming to find that nothing is quite the way it used to be. The very summary of the narrative conjures instant comparisons to Less Than Zero or even that less lauded gem, Son-In-Law. But what gives Hollidaysburg an edge over the others is a nouveau homage to the 80s movie style.
As the requisite wallflower in high school, Tori (Rachel Keller), stayed close to home after high school, attending nearby UCM. Most of the other students from her school opted for Penn State, including Heather (Claire Chapelli) the popular girlfriend of popular Scott (Tobin Mitnick), who seems to be having an existential meltdown in the wake of going to college and realizing that it's largely a scam--an expensive waiting room for unemployment. Perhaps this is what leads her to break up with Scott while having disinterested sex with him.
Scott, who used his student loan funds to fly back to Hollidaysburg from UCLA--even though his parents recently moved out of town--is flummoxed by Heather's brashness. Now it seems the only people who care that he's home are his brother, Phil (Philip Quinaz), and best friend, Petroff (Tristan Erwin), a drug-loving slacker with ties to Heather as well. Those ties prove stronger than he thought when Heather texts him for weed and they start hanging out for the rest of the break.
But Scott, too, has a new flame after Tori accidentally runs him over with her car and offers to take him to the hospital--rescinding that offer after explaining that since she had a few drinks, she might get a DUI. Charmed by her quirkiness (and possibly the fact that she bears a very similar aesthetic to Heather), Scott takes a shine to her. Although he knew her in high school, she appears different to him now, more at peace with herself.
The realization that fulfilling their dreams of getting away from home and starting the next phase of their lives wasn't all it was cracked up to be lend the main characters of Hollidaysburg a relatability on par with John Cusack's lovelorn Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything... Because, yes, college is just the beginning of disappointment, and this is the usual moment in a white person's life that can be pinpointed to their gradual but steady mental spiral. Indeed, the film concludes with Tori quoting John Updike (who hailed from a town nearby Hollidaysburg): “Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” This apropos assessment of humans in general and college students in particular is indicative of the unavoidable ebb and flow of life--no matter how addicted some of us become to stagnation. Tori consoles herself with Updike's thought, putting a positive spin on it by noting, "There's something nice about dying every day. And being born and born and born."