Dishing out swear words is not my forte, but thankfully Shithouse is, for lack of a better word, the f**king s**t. It’s an eye-opening and audacious debut from writer/director Cooper Raiff that is filled with realized performances. Whether or not you love the moniker, peel an extra layer and you are in for one of a kind storytelling.
Alex (Cooper Raiff) is a sensitive freshman who is having trouble adjusting to college life in California. The Dallas native misses his loving mother (Amy Landecker) and younger sister, and one immediately assumes that they are probably his best friends.
Roommate Sam (Logan Miller), a layabout whose sole purpose is to attend parties and get wasted, is barely even an acquaintce (they assumedly get along because of their living situation). Alex’s only friend and confidante is his stuffed animal, and though he comes off as a loving human being, he has similar arrested development issues as Sam (in defense of Sam, college life and partying, from what I recall, almost go hand in hand).
The film was honored with SXSW’s Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature, and if you want to experience Shithouse in all its storytelling glory, you can stop reading right here. Shithouse is highly deserving of that honor, and a big part of its allure is watching this story unfold and surprise you in many different ways. I will touch upon a couple of issues without spoiling the story in the succeeding paragraphs, but my main suggestion is you simply go in with a blind eye when it hits theaters and VOD October 16!
Alex’s life takes a turn for the better during an evening partying at the Shithouse (a fraternity home). There he meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), and thier meet cute/awkward moment leads into a night that both will probably remember for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, moments are not the cure all for the redundancy and harsh realities of life. The next morning Maggie presumably wants nothing to do with Alex, and he tries latching onto her for dear life.
Here’s our Find Your Film review of Shithouse (Both Bruce Purkey and I praised the s**t out of it. Co-host Eric Holmes said it wasn’t his cup of tea).
Twenty-three-year-old Cooper Raiff has digested his share of cinema throughout his life, and the movie’s references to Gravity and 13 Going on 30 only bolsters that fact. The easy comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise is accurate, but the good news is Shithouse does not parrot what has come before.
Instead, Raiff gives us a fully fleshed out Alex. With such a close knit family as a support system, Alex gets a total pass for wanting to go home to Texas for some much needed nurturing and codepency! Maggie’s decision to separate from Alex and simply enjoy her college life is also understandable, and Shithouse perfectly conveys that there are two sides to every story.
With Raiff as the creator, the male gaze approach to this romantic comedy/drama could have been overwhelming, but Gelula’s heartbreakingly raw performance places everything in relative balance. Raiff effectively captures Alex’s social ineptitude and kindheartedness, but in an organic fashion he ultimately yields the floor to Gelula (Maggie, amidst all her doubts, comes off as more self-assured, so it makes total sense).
I’ve been covering movies since 1991, and Shithouse is the one film that absolutely transported me back to my college years. Being fully invested in my family during college may have detracted from a full enjoyment of that time, but ultimately that was my decision. Cooper Raiff understands the intricacies and challenges of building relationships, and some of these scenes may feel all too real for you as well.
The Devil All The Time and Once Upon A River are reviewed on CinemAddicts:
Shithouse hits theaters and VOD October 16, and the feature signals an intriguing new talent with Cooper Raiff and a budding actress in Dylan Gelula. I am sure Raiff and company are sick of the Before Sunrise comparisons, but if more films focusing on Alex and Maggie are in the offing, I will chant Richard Linklater until the cows come home.
Rating 4 out of 5 *****