2020 | R | starring Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Logan Miller | written & directed by Cooper Raiff | 1 hr 40 mins |
Contains Strong Language
Shot on a shoestring budget and powered only be realistic dialog and pure raw emotion, Cooper Raiff’s indie with a capital “I” debut Shithouse is a raw nerve of a little movie. Despite it’s unmarketable title, Shithouse is far from the usual crude college comedy, instead it is a platonic college love story and rarity about how young men process first loves. What it has in ugly, grimy, single-camera visuals, it makes up for in honesty.
Alex (Raiff) is a freshman in college with a profound case of homesickness. Unable to bond with his roommate (Logan Miller, Love Simon), with daily calls to his mom and sister he spends most days taking to-go lunches to his rooms. One night with his roommate, Sam, so passed-out drunk he is evicted from his room, he meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula) and the two spend the rest of the night on a platonic odyssey of discovery that wakes Alex up to the life he wants to have.
The basic framework of Shithouse we’ve seen before, though not very often. It’s got shades of Garden State and Lost in Translation. It would be a Mumblecore movie if it were set in the New York art scene and not about anything. It would be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie if it weren’t so realistic in it’s rendering of Maggie and nuanced in Gelula’s performance. Shithouse’s Maggie meets some of the MPDG qualities – she’s cool, she’s interested in helping the main character and she’s a bit quirky – but Raiff and Gelula smartly swerve away from the real quirk and make Maggie a full-fledged person with real issues and a life of her own. Raiff and Gelula carry the movie and they are both great. Nothing about this movie would work if we didn’t buy them as friends first.
Shithouse is almost painful in how accurately it traces Freshman loneliness – Alex, who lost his father, is now incredibly close with his mother and sister and now living in a dorm is tearing him apart inside. When he starts inching out of his comfort zone it feels real and almost nerve-wracking – first with an awkward sexual encounter with Maggie, then playing a softball game with strangers, volunteering to smoke dope with Sam and trying to have fun at a Basketball team party. The way he interprets or misinterprets some of Maggie’s acts of kindness for budding romance is skin-crawlingly cringe in a good way, in a way that we rarely see in movies – how romantic young men often find romance in the tiniest acts of kindness (“she offered me a drink”) and misinterpret that interest for the seeds of a budding relationship. On Maggie’s end the movie takes equal measure to show that she’s a bit older and more mature than Alex, she’s just having a good time, is actually not leading him on and she has clear boundaries for what she wants.
Even the film’s quirkier beats are played not for the sake of quirk, but to show Alex’s swirling state of confusion. He talks to a stuffed dog that talks back to him in subtitles, he and Sam crash a party in wigs and – in the film’s funniest, most cinematic little moment – he smartasses to a bouncer until he gets chased down the sidewalk. These little side adventures, including Maggie’s failed attempts to hook up and Sam’s failed attempts and stand up comedy – build out the films’ world just beautifully.
As said, Shithouse looks ugly, but it’s also appropriately so, taking place mostly in Alex and Sam’s sparce, pathetic dorm room or an equally generic frat house. It clearly was shot with single takes and not a lot of coverage – shots hold on someone after they talk and we hear someone else respond. It was shot with very few people – lots of party footage is filmed in close-up where there might as well have been 2 people in the entire room. So you can see all the seams here.
Shithouse is also emotionally impactful. It dares to be genuine and wear it’s heart openly on it’s sleeve in a time when everything is ironic and sarcastic and meta. I feel like I went on a rich journey with these characters and can’t wait to see what Raiff has for us as a writer, and Gelula has for us as an actor, next.