One of the first things that sticks out to you about Cooper Raiff’s movie Shithouse (or S#!%house, for those who prefer not having the curse right there in front of you) is the title. Simple put, the name of this film is terrible. It suggests a different sort of flick, a much worse one, too, as Raiff has crafted something emotional, funny, and deeply heartfelt. The title suggests something much rougher. Perhaps it’s intentional, but I’m actually shocked no one forced him to change the name. Kudos to IFC for supporting his vision, though it may well make this a much harder sell than it needs to be. Coming out tomorrow, it really deserves to be seen.
The film is a dramedy, centered on a struggling college freshman. As presented by Raiff himself, this is his description of the picture: “Among thousands of kids trying their best to make college work, Alex feels alone and depressed. Home is 1500 miles away and he’s struggling to find a reason not to go back. Maggie, Alex’s sophomore RA, has been crushing college since day one. Today though, Maggie is dealt an unexpected loss. After a party at Shithouse, Maggie wants some company and finds it in Alex. Two young people raised in very different households, Alex and Maggie challenge each other and grow up together.” Alex (Raiff) finds living away from home almost impossible, but his tentative bonding with Maggie (Dylan Gelula) is the start of something new and exciting for him, provided he doesn’t screw it up. Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars, with music from Jack Kraus, as well as cinematography by Rachel Klein. Supporting players include Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Abby Quinn, and more.
Cooper Raiff is a talent to watch out for, both in front of and behind the camera. His acting is the perfect combination of awkward and fully realized, which is ironic, considering he’s playing a character in Alex who is hardly fully formed as a person. His writing leans into Alex being upset over not being home, which plenty of students experience, but few movies ever depict. The dialogue is realistic and memorable, while he has solid chemistry with Dylan Gelula. Raiff’s direction is solid and simple, focusing on these characters. Alex gets the main interest from him, obviously, but Gelula has plenty to do, and her strong work makes you as fascinated by Maggie as Alex is.
S#!%house is one of the more accurate depictions of college life out there. There’s nothing wild, even at the wild college party. The characters who are less than stand up people have shades to them. Everyone just feels real, and that goes a long way in a film like this. You don’t want to feel like you’re watching an alternate reality, especially when the emotions are designed to be relatable. In that regard, Raiff has achieved something fairly remarkable here. He deserves credit for not just coming up with this initially less than cinematic concept, but for seeing it through to the finish. If there’s a close comparison, it’s the Before series from Richard Linklater. There’s a similar feel here, at least at the outset, before the third act goes in an interesting new direction.
Starting tomorrow, anyone looking for a good movie with a bad name can give S#!%house a shot. You really should, too, as it’s high quality cinema. Put the title out of your head and focus on just how strong the flick is. If you do that, you’ll easily enjoy. With a bit of a Linklater vibe, Raiff establishes himself as a storyteller to keep an eye on. I know I’ll be doing so, so you should as well…
Be sure to check out S#!%house, available to watch this weekend!
(Photos courtesy of IFC Films)