James Clay // Film Critic
Rated R, 100 minutes.
Director: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker and Logan Miller
Breaking through the indie filmmaking battleground is not easy, especially when finding a distinct voice as a first-time feature filmmaker.
Writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff’s debut feature, SHITHOUSE, makes it look and feel so natural. In short, SHITHOUSE may have an alarming title, but it’s worthy of sparking loads of excitement for what Raiff’s career will bring. His introspective sensibilities and technical proficiency are impressive while maintaining a goofy spark that’s infectious from start to finish.
For gloomy college freshman Alex (Raiff), his time away from Texas at his Los Angeles-based school has been nothing but a drag. His roommate, Sam (Logan Miller), is an obnoxious party boy you’d see on one of those news reports, raging at a beach without a mask during the pandemic. Alex knows what he needs to do to overcome his fears: stop calling mom (Amy Landecker) so often and eat in the cafeteria instead of bringing to-go boxes back to his dorm. But it’s so hard to move when you’re stuck in social quicksand.
His best buddy is a highly insightful stuffed dog that speaks to him through sad projections via subtitles. Things like: “Ask him about the party… Well, we tried,” or “What are you going to do in Dallas? That will be hard, too.” There’s no clear path — so many avenues. Sadly, there is a lack of multiple choice answers until he meets sophomore resident advisor Maggie (Gelula). She notices him lounging late at night in the common area after Sam drunkenly poops his pants. Seemingly clueless on how to flirt, yet insanely charming, Alex is invited back to Maggie’s room, or as he puts it: they can “kiss and have sex.” Alex and Maggie are at the point where they’re grasping for straws looking for a connection.
She’s looking for perhaps a one-off thing, and Alex is hopeful this could be the portal to something more. They share a push and pull, challenging each other’s insecurities and theories on college life with a brutal honesty you’d only share with somebody you just met. The casual adventure is a magical experience, then the morning comes.
Raiff knows these characters inside and out, giving them a specific authenticity that envelopes the college experience from gaslighting to the superficial nature of a weekend hookup. These moments are fleeting. Even though Maggie states, “college is a time to be selfish,” he’s exacting all the soft boy tropes you have seen in so many “nice guys” in feature films and subverting it all with introspection. Raiff isn’t pretending that Maggie can fix all of his social problems, and when things take a negative turn, his thoughtful acting choices show how embarrassing being selfish can genuinely be.
SHITHOUSE comes from the viewpoint of a male. Gelula, who has been memorable in a few supporting roles (SUPPORT THE GIRLS, HER SMELL), makes the film feel complete with a much needed flip side perspective. Raiff has channeled some indie spirit guides like the godfather of chill cinema, Richard Linklater, and early Noah Baumbach – and perhaps Greta Gerwig – but never losing sight of his vision.
Unapologetic and honest, Raiff maybe unintentionally announcing himself as a considerable talent, the kind of filmmaker you’ll find in the Criterion Collection in a decade. Through all the hangovers, hookups, and awkward exchanges, there’s undoubtedly a special message about growing up, moving on, and getting over…yourself. SHITHOUSE is hands down the biggest cinematic surprise this year.
S#!%HOUSE is now playing in select theaters and available on VOD.