Why is college so hard? I feel like I’m just like floating and nobody like-
You should take up exercising maybe
Just throwing shit out. Sorry you’re feeling sad.
It is with this conversation in a lost college freshman’s head between him and his inanimate stuffed animal through subtitles that we find the epicenter of what this movie is trying to communicate. College is a rough transition for many. Sometimes instead of solutions, all you need is to be seen. Shithouse (titled S#!%house for promotional materials) is the feature film debut by the impressive 22-year-old Cooper Raiff, who stars, writes, produces, and directs this Indie darling by IFC films. Raiff plays Alex. Earnest, charming, but also awkward at times. He has left the love and support of his family in Texas, to go away for college. Feeling isolated and unsure of himself, Alex takes the leap and asks his roommate, Sam, played by “Love Simon’s” Logan Miller, if there any parties that night. Starting with Sam, Raiff has a knack and fine-tuned sense for characterization. He comes off as irresponsible and self-deluding. I have seen him in people I have met and even my sophomore roommates. Unfortunately, I have seen him in myself.
This craving for personal and outside validation is something I can identify with at that stage in my life, and in some ways even today. All characters, whether featured or supporting, spoke to me in ways I was not expecting and reminded me of the distinct types of personalities you meet in college and especially your first year. There is a party at the house aptly named “Shithouse,” and Alex decided this will be the night he tries. After showering and accidentally getting locked out of his room, the RA on his floor Maggie, played by “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s” Dylan Gelula, happens to be passing by. Their exchange is brief, but there is a clear attraction between the two. The acting is very grounded with Gelula playing it as more expressive than Raiff who is more reserved, with a burst of spontaneity and passion.
At the party, Alex tries to get adjusted, but cannot seem to connect with anyone. He bumps into Maggie again and their chemistry is crackling. He asks why she is holding a wine bottle and she replies, “I like having something heavy to hold at a party.” Lines like these not only transport you back to conversations in your life, but it gives you this visceral feeling. Whether you have lived it or not, you get it. and he finally met someone he wants to know more about.
To his disappointment, she is dragged away by a friend telling her a guy there wants to hook up with her. Alex meets another girl who comes on to him, but in another instance of relatability, it seems that if she did not find him it would just as easily have been someone else. He manages to duck out of the party before committing to a fling with the girl. Coming back to his dorm, his roommate is sick from too much alcohol, so Alex goes to sleep in the lobby. Maggie finds him there after having an unsuccessful night with the guy she was with. She asks him to come to her room and what follows is a night spent together ruminating on existential questions, dealing with death, and striking out on your own without your family. There is a comedy to be found in the missteps and conversational misunderstandings that occur. The script is more clever than it lets on at first. Flirty and cutesy banter turns into a more deep and intimate discussion, and pings back and forth to different moods, depending on wherever the conversation lands.
The two come from different home lives and backgrounds, but there is real chemistry between them. Most of the film is just their back-and-forth dialogue and musings composed of long takes and close-ups, walking through the lamp-lit streets and campus fields. The worries about yourself and the community that dances across your mind in early adulthood are the focus. Maggie believes college should be the most selfish part of your life, whereas Alex thinks it should be about better helping each other. All the similarities and differences give real life to these characters. The characters are ordinary in the way you have friends just like them, but their flaws and struggles endear you to them and paint them as a very likable pair.
The main theme that courses through the film’s lifeblood is that college adjustment is difficult, what is even more difficult is staying true to your core self and not sacrificing it to adapt to the people around you. It is a rough journey- those critical years of maturity- but it does not have to be done alone.