Written and Directed by Cooper Raiff.
Starring Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch, Abby Quinn, Joy Sunday, Ashley Padilla, Tre Hall, Alina Patra, Chinedu Unaka, Nick Saso, Wyatt Whipple, Juan Wood, Danny Scharar, Mallory Low, Adan Rocha, Natalie Rousseau, Teddy Padilla, Adam Foster Ballard, Tessa Hope Slovis, and Mike Raiff.
A homesick college freshman goes to a party at Shithouse and ends up spending the night with his sophomore RA who’s had a shitty day and wants someone to hang out with.
Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff’s crudely titled but sweet-natured Shithouse drops more than enough clues to let viewers know where the second half of the college romance/identity crisis comedy is going, and it’s a place where anyone that has ever dealt with that sort of situation will be anxiously dreading it hoping to be wrong. It’s a place of pain and confusion that on top of Alex’s (Cooper Raiff) mopey and lonely mama’s boy persona would only be amplified in its emotionally crippling nature. Bringing my own life experience into the mix, I don’t want to see this person suffer the way I have before, which is both a testament to the performances and authenticity of these characters. Inevitably, the story takes the expected but effectively depressing turn, as Alex likens the experience to his heart sinking down out of his body. If I didn’t know before, that’s when I assuredly knew Shithouse wasn’t just realistic in a cinematic sense, but that these were more than characters and that Cooper Raiff knew how to delicately elaborate on this sensitive and complicated dynamic that would turn into a disaster steered by a filmmaker without a clue or 7.
Backing all the way up, Alex is a bit of a lame college student. Not to be mean, but it’s true. His introductory sequence sees him talking to a stuffed animal of all things (complete with its own subtitles making for a bizarre piece of humor) where even the inanimate object begins to get frustrated at his inability to make friends and detach from his family, who he is now hundreds of miles away from. Alex is seemingly a hard-working student, but it seems like he spends just as much time checking in on his mother and sister (mom played by Amy Landecker with not so much an overbearing amount of concern, but certainly an enabling presence) rather than experimenting with college life.
Much of who Alex is will be put to the test over the course of one weekend, as his party fiend roommate Sam (Logan Miller) convinces him to hit up the titular Shithouse frat party for a good time. Unsurprisingly, Alex is just as awkward there, most notably when talking to girls. Although, he does happen to make a decent impression on Dylan Gelula’s Maggie, who seems to be off-key in different ways. For starters, she’s willing to throw herself at Alex sexually before even knowing his name. It’s clear from an audience perspective that she’s mostly looking for a one night stand, but after some of the most inexperienced and bumbling sex (technically it doesn’t even go that far and is just lots of half-naked kissing), Maggie encourages Alex to stick around for the night.
Maybe she actually likes this socially stinted but kind young man. They get to talking about her recently deceased turtle as he consoles her, trade wisdom regarding college life and the people they are surrounded by, and even find themselves partaking in a late-night game of softball with some other peers. It’s also made clear that Maggie has had the exact opposite family life; if Alex’s mom cares too much, Maggie has never had anyone that truly cares and could possibly be harboring some darker secrets and trauma.
This is a mild spoiler, but Maggie ghosts Alex immediately the next day. Alex is understandably heartbroken, and although he doesn’t always deal with that stinging in the most respectful or healthiest of ways (he sends a string of unanswered f text messages throughout the day that some will find as creepy whereas others will find them justifiable actions of someone that let his guard down, got hurt, and is pleading for an explanation), the sympathy is overflowing. And while there could be slightly more exploration of Maggie’s character, there’s more than enough empathy for her despite her cruel actions; she’s obviously someone with an unpleasant past that is acting out hooking up with random guys as a misguided coping mechanism
Towards the end of Shithouse, it’s not about hoping these two will eventually break through to one another and get together (although most people will), but how each of them grows from here. Alex and Maggie each latch onto others (or in the case of Maggie, use that latching as a form of validation for one night) for unhealthy reasons and desperately need some semblance of identity and independence. The fact that Cooper Raiff has made a film this riveting and warm with essentially no budget (the ending credits are only 30 seconds long) is nothing short of extraordinary. He’s a breakthrough filmmaker to watch and these are immensely fascinating characters in all of their anxiety, naivety, vulnerability, pain, and palpable growth as human beings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com