Shithouse | Review23 October 2020 / by Monique Vigneault (author)
At first glance, the artless, vulgar moniker of Shithouse suggests a film akin to Superbad but what ensues is a wistful hybrid of the frat-boy genre and an earnest take on the coming-of-age dramedy. Shithouse promises boozy, dorm benders, but delivers more angst and contemplation. Of course, this isn’t to say that all the usual suspects of the grotty college lifestyle aren’t present: inebriated, sloppy roommates, anxious, curt chatter and unkempt beds adorn each frame.
Rachel Klein, the film’s DOP, delivers crisp, desaturated close-ups that are striking. Accompanied by a score of lo-fi, acoustic tracks by indie artist 0fret, the film immediately nestles into its coming-of-age melancholy.
Set to premiere at the cancelled SXSW 2020, Shithouse has the machinations of a true low-budget cult classic. Twenty-two year old Cooper Raiff not only wrote, directed, produced, but stars as the film’s languished soft-boy protagonist. Though it's unfortunate that this debut is been buried beneath the ensuing cine-apocalypse it did, however, go on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the cancelled festival. Did we mentioned Raiff's only twenty-two?
Raiff stars as Alex, a solitary freshman at Los Angeles University, who, in an effort to break out of a cloud of homesick ennui, ditches his only friend, a stuffed wolf, for a frat party. The venue? The revered, Shithouse. At the Shithouse, Alex runs into Maggie (Dylan Gelula) a cool-headed RA who later winds up engaging in revealing discourse with Alex under moonlight.
Alex and Maggie wander around empty parking garages, engaging in endless conversation, both banal and philosophical, in the same platonic vein as a Linklater film. The deadpan tone unravels into a rumination on growing up, leaving home, and in the freeing admission that it sucks a little bit. Their connection exists within a vacuum, a small sliver of space, until the very next day when the romance dissolves, and the two become strangers once again.
How many times have we become strangers with those we shared perhaps the most intimate words with? If anything, Shithouse is a meditation on the fleeting connections we make when young.
Similar to Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tú Mamá También, Shithouse tip-toes into a shallow, uncomplicated portrait of an everyday nineteen-year old before plunging into lonely introspection. In both films, the undercurrent of isolation eventually overtake the salacious humour.
As uncomplicated in it’s premise as Normal People, Raiff’s objective is simple: to explore the sheepish, awkward conventions of modern love and university life. Though Raiff doesn’t attempt to draw any universal conclusions, he wades within the confines of an insular experience.
The title, Shithouse, in its eye-rolling glory, sells short an indie debut that surprisingly tilts more cinéma d’auteur, than Channing Tatum frat comedy. And still, in a year where the off-kilter, disorienting, freshman experience has been digitized, Shithouse is a melancholic time-capsule. It’s a charming portrait of university life as we once knew it.
Rating: 4/5 Stars