Sunday, October 25, 2020

Movie Review: "Shithouse" (2020)

Movie poster for the IFC film "Shithouse" (2020), starring Cooper Raiff, Amy Landecker, Dylan Gelula, and Logan Miller
Image Source

Director: Cooper Raiff
Year: 2020
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

"Shithouse" (2020) is the second film we saw as part of the 2020 San Diego International Film Festival with a misleading-ish title. It isn't quite what you'd expect it to be based on its name alone. The name "Shithouse" conjures up images of raucous party flicks, "Van Wilder" (2002), "PCU" (1994), or "Porky's" (1981) types of pictures loaded with drunk people trying to get laid. This particular film does involve drunk college students trying to get laid, but tonally, it's more in line with Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" (1995) with a sprinkling of "Everybody Wants Some!" (2016). Written by, directed by, and starring Cooper Raiff, "Shithouse" (2020) follows a young college freshman named Alex (Raiff) who is struggling to adapt to college dorm life. Alex has no friends, he and his roommate Sam (Logan Miller) don't get along, and he spends most of his free time either talking to his stuffed dog or calling his family back home. Hoping to break out of his shell and with a little urging from his plush pooch, Alex decides to go to a frat party at a place known as 'Shithouse.' The party doesn't go well at all. When Alex and Sam return to their dorm room, Sam craps his pants, forcing Alex to seek refuge from the smell in the common room. There, he strikes up a conversation with the dorm's RA, a sophomore named Maggie (Dylan Gelula). The two instantly hit it off and talk into the night, but when morning comes, Maggie suddenly changes her tune, and the chemistry they had a few short hours ago seems gone.
Cooper Raiff is homesick while attending college in the 2020 IFC Film "Shithouse" (2020)
Alex (Cooper Raiff) is homesick while attending college in the 2020 IFC Film "Shithouse" (2020). (Image Source)
The first half of "Shithouse" (2020) mostly consists of Alex and Maggie walking around campus as they carry on conversations about their lives, how they were raised, and their philosophies on college and what they hope to get out of it. Cooper Raiff and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" star Dylan Gelula have terrific chemistry with one another, so it's not hard to get lost in their conversations. They share many humorous moments as Alex tries to escape his natural awkwardness, but there is also a lot of tenderness as they discuss past traumas and future ambitions. These intimate early conversations are the most compelling parts of the film.

After their transcendent night together, Alex and Maggie wake up the next morning, and her attitude has inexplicably changed. She has an almost hostile tone towards him and apparently wants nothing to do with him. At this point, the audience might be just as confused as Alex as to her sudden switch. Alex might throw some seriously nasty farts in his sleep...who the hell knows? It's as good an explanation as any since we're sort of left guessing. We get not wanting to create a relationship from a one night stand. We can even understand that Maggie's attitude change might reflect how much room she has left to grow as a person with a lot of traumatic emotional baggage, but her "ghosting" Alex with no explanation didn't sit right with us. There's not even a simple "this isn't what I want" or "we had a nice night together, but this isn't going to work out," just a cold shoulder he's left to work out as he wallows in his aloneness once more. From that moment on, the events of the next day unfold more awkwardly than watching Alex have a full-on conversation with his stuffed animal. We start to see Maggie become increasingly crueler as Alex gets even more desperate, which isn't an impression you want for your two romantic leads. If this series of events play out in the name of realism, well, it's nothing we've ever experienced first-or-even-secondhand, but maybe things have changed in the 15 years we've been together. In that same amount of time, however, our society has also made leaps and bounds when it comes to calling out bad behavior and toxic situations. For a time, we found ourselves actively rooting against Maggie and Alex's partnership because of its underlying toxicity, especially after they have their big blow-out and say some impressively shitty things to one another. Their massive fight gave us serious "you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half" vibes.

The narrative is also pretty uneven as it is almost entirely front-heavy, which makes for a sluggish second half despite the tension and bickering. The script rushes things at the end in search of a satisfying conclusion, which we thought was a little too convenient. It would have been nice to have had a few more minutes with the characters to catch up on whether or not they learned to be better people from the time they spent together. That being said, Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff both put on great performances.
Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff in the film "Shithouse" (2020).
Dylan Gelula and Cooper Raiff star in the film "Shithouse" (2020). (Image Source)
Regardless of how you feel about the title, "Shithouse" (2020) boasts quite a bit of charm early on despite some structural messiness. Anyone who has gone away to college or moved away from home will be able to relate to having feelings of homesickness while trying to find your place in a sea of strangers and new situations. One thing's for sure, we're going to be keeping an eye on Cooper Raiff and Dylan Gelula's careers because we see nothing but good things for them in the future.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.3/10
RT Rating: ~96%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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