Directed by Cooper Raiff.
Starring Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch, and Abby Quinn.
Lonely college freshman Alex has closed himself off from his peers, who all appear to have this whole “college thing” figured out. But everything changes one night when Alex takes a leap and attends a party at Shithouse, where he forges a strong connection with Maggie.
Since I never had the traditional college experience by going to film school, I always find films like Shithouse incredibly enlightening to this strange world. There are some social politics to navigating life and love in college, something I think this film does extremely well. It’s not always easy and can take a toll on someone, which Shithouse also discusses wonderfully.
Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a film quite like this: something so raw and honest, yet so funny and entertaining. Shithouse is Cooper Raiff’s debut film, and it’s mind-blowing to see such a strong “coming out party” as a filmmaker. The script feels tight, never wasting a moment. The acting is grounded in such reality that I felt like Raiff followed actual people for these situations and not a gaggle of talented actors. We rarely see a filmmaker start their career with such a wonderfully strong outing.
Cooper Raiff does a fantastic job as not only the writer and director but starring in the film. It feels like we see his singular vision of this story play out, and that’s always refreshing. Young adult-focused comedies often feel like there’s a room full of 50-year-old men pitching ideas of what they did 30 years ago or trying hard to relate to the younger demo, but here, it’s a real honest look at something that feels close to Raiff’s experience.
Freshmen Alex is trying to find his place in college; he struggles with finding friends and connecting with his roommate, but that all changes the night he finally goes out to a house party and meets Maggie. The pair spends the evening together, which sets them off on two very different paths, leading Alex to soul search and figure out what he wants to do. And not even on some “what’s my major?” or “what will I do after college?” type of questioning, these are very internal and personal questions that he’s trying to solve.
The journey we follow Alex and Maggie on feels very small on the surface, but it’s honestly bigger and more open than I ever expected. There’s a personal nature to this film, but also so welcoming. Raiff goes out of his way to make you feel like you are in this story. While this is a particular situation to someone, it’s not uncommon, and I think many of us, especially in the younger generations, had days like this before.
There’s also a raw openness that makes this so strong, peeling back so many shields we all put up and exposing us at our most vulnerable. A highlight being the scene where Alex calls his mother, asking a question he obviously knows the answer to, just to have her comfort. While he’s holding back tears in this scene, he lets them unfold later on, and it took me back. It was such a candid and honest scene, which surprised me to see a man express himself openly. So many men, even when making films like this, still want to have a layer of “movie perfection.” Cooper Raiff strips all of that away.
I will say the film’s focus on “cringe” comedy is interesting, as I am usually not a fan of it, but it works here. We are cringing at very natural situations that come up and not these forced comedy moments just for the sake of a “yikes” from a viewer. If it’s getting locked out of a dorm or having to ask that douchey guy you don’t want to speak with another question, it’s moments of really awkward situations that feel all too relatable.
Using some perfectly on-point cringe moments, backed by Raiff’s strikingly natural dialogue, it makes Shithouse an effortlessly funny movie. There’s still set-up and punchlines like any comedy needs, but they come so seamlessly and wonderfully that you find yourself laughing almost the entire time.
Going into comedies, especially ones with a romantic focus, usually give me some pause—especially ones with a name as bold and out there as this. This is a great example of never judging a book by its cover and giving every movie its own chance. I’m not usually one for a rom-com with a splash of drama, but Raiff’s script and the striking performances from everyone really made it easy to love.
Dylan Gelula’s Maggie needs a special round of applause, as she shatters so many tropes and cliches that come with a female lead in a male-directed romantic comedy. She never slipped into the “manic pixie dream girl” area, which felt so common last decade. Honestly, she’s hard to define as a trope or any term, because she feels like a regular human. I’ve had moments like her, my close female friends have told me about nights like this, and you will find something about her that makes you relate. Raiff is never selfish as a writer or screen partner, giving Maggie room to grow just like his character.
Shithouse gets the proud honor of being the first great romantic comedy of this decade. While 2020 has felt like a hopeless year in many ways, this is a film and a filmmaker that makes the industry’s future just a little brighter. Not only with his talent but with what he has to say in this.
There’s an actual message of “it will get better if you push through” that doesn’t feel corny or forced; it feels like an actual declaration. We saw characters grow over time, though within this film’s small window of time, but it tells viewers actually to push forward. Right now, that’s all we could ask for, and it’s wonderful to find it in a film like Cooper Raiff’s Shithouse.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★