A Dark Horse Indie Dramedy Hit
It's unlikely a film entitled Shithouse could capture the hearts of many. Not just mine, but this critical darling also won the top prize at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), COVID be damned. The seemingly very simple premise of a lonely, homesick college freshman struggles to adapt to dorm and party life as he's entangled in whirlwind of whacky events and an unforeseen relationship blossoms over the course of one drunken night and weekend. Again, this seems like an incredibly simple premise on the surface, and it is, but the story, chemistry, and heart that lies within makes the journey all worth it. I'm not one for convention and cliches, and that's exactly why I love this film. I'll tell you why.
First thing's first: the chemistry between the two leads is impeccable. That's really why this film works so well. The film starts off with Alex (played by the writer/director Cooper Raiff) who is homesick, his roommate hates him, and he talks to his stuffed animal (who is really the only person he can lean on at this point). Alex forms an unlikely bond with his RA Maggie, played incredibly well by Dylan Gelula (watch out for that name in the future), and the two, after a party at the Shithouse, spend the entire night together where hijinks ensue while getting to know each other. Again, seems simple, but the writing, acting, direction, and cinematography all heighten it to the point where it's impossible to peel your eyes away from them.
It's important to note, it's very difficult to make me laugh; and I thought this film was absolutely hilarious. A mix of dry, raunchy, and situational humor make for an actually legitimately funny film. There is also a surprising amount of heart in this film; especially for a film with the title Shithouse. The film has a rare charm to it - it's awkward, but yet, endearing. I feel the film captures college life perfectly, which adds to the genuine nature of the story and the characters. It cannot be overstated how much the leads really connect on an emotional level; their chemistry is undeniable. The characters are not only down to earth and true to life, they are also deeply intriguing. He gives each character a unique voice and quirks which work on a richly authentic level. They are both multi-dimensional, which makes their fever pitch at the climax all the more impactful. The characters are so strong and built up throughout the course of the night they spend together, which makes for an interesting end to their weekend.
The relatability factor is so important when it comes to films of this type. Whether it be relating to the situation, it happening to you, or you being able to see it happen, these aspects of the film have to strike a chord with its audience. And I feel Shithouse did exactly that with flying colors. Cooper Raiff clearly has experienced college in the way that most of us have, and you can feel it in the film's characters and situations. Raiff also dives into deep, intellectual themes with the dialogue between Alex and Maggie throughout the course of their bonding. It's clear that this film was shot on a low budget, but you don't necessarily feel that with how strong the writing and direction are. As I mentioned before, the cinematography heightens each situation with the intimacy of close-ups and it does not have the look of a low budget film either. The film looks great and feels natural, which is a testament to Raiff's confident direction and the crew's bang-up work.
As I mentioned before, Shithouse features truly genuine characters and moments, which is a must for any low budget indie dramedy. The film dives into deep and interesting ideas during strong character moments, which is uncommon for a film of this tone. The characters and their stories are organic and felt real during their most vulnerable scenes, which had a hugely positive impact overall. The relatability of the situations was strong as you have either been there or could see yourself there. You understand how the characters think and feel; you're there every step of the way. The pivotal moment between the two main characters was biting and executed to perfection. Unfortunately, now is the time to be critical. The rising moment from rock bottom happened a little too quick for my liking after all that build-up, but doesn't work against it too much. *minor spoiler alert* The part towards the end when we jumped ahead 2.5 years in time was admittedly a little bit jarring for my taste. A stronger ending and a wee-bit tighter script/narrative would have benefitted this film greatly. In my humble opinion, I do not believe this film had to be 100 minutes. 90 minutes would have been absolutely perfect for this story. It's still an incredibly effective film and works on nearly every level. The ending is cute, but could have been a tad better. Still, Cooper Raiff did, in fact, hit a home run here. And for that, I applaud him.
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Shithouse can be rented on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.