Cooper Raiff’s directorial debut, Shithouse, which he also wrote, produced, edited, and stars in, is the kind of movie that makes you fall in love with movies again.
After my screening, I wanted to run home and watch Heat, a film that has nothing in common with Shithouse aside from the fact that it rules because I was so jacked on cinema that I felt a compulsive urge to mainline more of it.
I’ll provide some additional information on the movie below, but if you don’t read past this section, read this: Shithouse is the best film of 2020 so far.
It captures something essential about youth and the college experience with tenderness and humor that makes it entertaining and relatable.
You should support a great independent film and its creator, Cooper Raiff, by seeing this in theaters (if able) or renting it from your favorite VOD service as soon as humanly possible.
College is Shit
Alex (played by Raiff) is not having a good time.
He’s moved across the country for college, leaving his mother and sister behind in Texas, and the experience has been less than ideal.
Alex’s roommate, Sam (Logan Miller, in the year’s funniest supporting performance) doesn’t like him, and to be honest, Alex doesn’t really like him (or anyone else he’s met) either. Alex spends his time alone, having conversations in his head with the stuffed wolf he brought to college with him, and thinking about moving home.
But things take a turn for Alex when he accompanies Sam to a party at Shithouse. He ends up spending a Before Sunrise-style evening with his R.A., Maggie (the wonderfully talented Dylan Gelula), and going on a campus-wide odyssey to help give her pet turtle, recently deceased, a proper burial.
Over the course of the evening they develop a bond, sharing their traumas and insecurities, and Alex finally feels like he’s made a genuine connection on the West Coast…
…until he wakes up in Maggie’s room the next morning and she doesn’t want anything to do with him, kickstarting the second act, which features cringe-worthy Instagram activity, a party hosted by the college basketball team, and a tidal wave of angst, confusion, and entertainment.
Delightful & Profound Shit
While that summary has the makings of a standard teenage dramedy, rest assured that Shithouse is operating on another level from most of the genre.
Raiff’s steady direction and sharp script, coupled with powerhouse performances from his young cast, make this a meditation on growth and connection, just one that includes a wig party and a character punctuating a moment of self-realization with the line, “T.G.I. Sunday, ‘cause this motherfucker is an alcoholic.”
Ultimately, the movie is about the need to let go of the past and open yourself up to new experiences, even it’s uncomfortable or painful. Its more sincere turns pack a punch because they’re given room to breathe between the weirder, wilder aspects of Shithouse, something Raiff has a clear affinity for.
There’re plenty of gonzo situations and hilarious lines to be found in this movie, but they don’t come at the expense of profound moments of tenderness and humanity.
Raiff, who is in his early 20s, was able to make this masterpiece after posting a short film he made with his friends online. It was seen by Jay Duplass (of the Duplass Brothers), who thought the young filmmaker-to-be had talent and helped him shepherd Shithouse through the production process.
While this is a fiercely original work (and Duplass mostly assisted from a distance during filming), Shithouse does share DNA with the best Duplass films and TV series, mining humor from relatable situations and experiences.
Shithouse is masterful, and one hell of a calling card for newcomer Cooper Raiff. It’s hilarious and human, building something strange and beautiful out of an experience that many viewers will have had themselves. It tempers its weirder aspects by punctuating them with moments of sincerity and warmth, always remaining entirely entertaining and engaging.
This is a low-budget film from someone fresh out of school, but it towers above every other feature that has hit screens this year. It’s fitting that the best film of 2020 should be called Shithouse, but equally fitting that it should be a movie about the importance of connecting with others and embracing change.
This is Must-See Cinema. It’s not just a great debut film, it’s a great film period, and one that is sure to build an audience for itself in the years to come. Get in on the ground floor.
Shithouse is currently in theaters and available to rent through VOD services.
If you’re interested in the other films we’re geeking out over, visit Geek Guy Buys: Watch!