Every now and then a film comes along that makes you feel so seen, it’s almost scary. It feels as if it was made specifically for you, or in the case of this film, based off of you. With Cooper Raiff’s Shithouse, this was very much the case and there’s no way for me to discuss this film without getting a bit personal. Yet, what makes this lovely film so charming is that it feels specific, while also remaining universal. There’s no denying that college is tough for many. In most situations, it is a fresh start on life, and an especially blank slate for those who move away from home. And while college films tend to take the route of showcasing all the ludicrous highs of college life, Raiff took it in a different direction, and it paid off marvelously.
The struggles of a college student can definitely be boiled down to a couple of usual suspects, but this shouldn’t diminish those struggles. Personally, the last thing I wanted to do was go away to college. I loved, and still do to a fault sometimes, the neighborhood I was born and raised in. I had my favorite food spots, my favorite hangouts, my favorite parks, my friends and family, and so much more that I was ingrained in. To give all that up to live in a room smaller than most apartments and a couple of nights of drinking? I couldn’t see how it was worth it. But long story short, I took the plunge because when I visited some schools for the first time, I knew the second I stepped foot on campus that I could call it home. And off I went. But as much as I loved being there, and those first few weekends were truly insane, it wore off quick. I was torn between wanting to be home as much as possible while loving all the freedom being given to me; yet it was almost an overload. I started staying in more. Eating at my desk, playing Xbox with friends from home, binging television shows. Anything to remind myself of what I left back in Queens. And I can say that I’ve never really seen that expressed in a film like I have in Raiff’s Shithouse.
Not only did he write, direct and co-edit the film, but Raiff also stars in it as Alex Malmquist, and yes, the same first name certainly hit even closer to home for me. But all jokes aside, Raiff brings serious emotion to the role, and this is a film that really relies on that lead performance. Experiencing an unforgettable night is truly something wonderful, and even moreso when it’s as spontaneous as what’s presented in the film. And how Alex grapples with the follow up is a notion that once again feels unique, but ever so realistic that surely most people have experienced it in some way or another. For those still wondering, yes, there’s plenty of classic college humor. There’s partying, shots, smoking, there’s even a friendly marketplace worker (and every school has one, so if you’re still in school, find that cool worker and say what’s up to them for me). But all those college tropes feel secondary to the main dilemma going on with Alex, and that’s a refreshing burst of life for the genre.
Anything worth doing in life is difficult. While college may not be the path for everybody, those who decide to take the plunge will likely have a difficult time in some way, shape or form, at least in the beginning. And what Shithouse does so elegantly is that it doesn’t condemn it’s lead for being the “odd one out”. Instead, it revels in that hazy area of loss of self and feels all the more cathartic because of it by the conclusion. And the same could be said about how Raiff handled the making of this film; he wrote, directed, co-edited and starred in the film. When asked how the experience was, Raiff said, “There’s a reason those roles are usually one person’s full-time job… though, it was the most vulnerable experience of my life”. Going away to college is an onslaught of decisions, emotional upheaval and change all at once. It may break you down a bit, but you will inevitably come out stronger on the other side. Raiff taking on all these jobs at once may have been difficult, but the proof of this vulnerability is present in the final result as the film barrels towards its emotional conclusion.
Shithouse is a wonderful slice of indie filmmaking. A coming of age that will be relevant to many, its theme can extend far beyond the reach of college students, even if that’s where it’s centered. With a wonderful family dynamic on display, a spontaneous night of adventuring through campus, and even an adorable stuffed animal, Raiff’s film is one that should be sought after. For it feels like a time capsule that will remain relevant for years and years to come.
Shithouse is currently playing in select theaters and on VOD. Our interview with Cooper Raiff drops this Monday, 10/19.