With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight for the near future, college students have had to take a new and different approach to how they attend classes.
Social distancing, especially for the average 18 to 22-year-old, doesn’t seem to be working, with campus parties, not to mention classes, being sources of infection and spread. What that means is that most college students will be attending college very remotely.
Writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff’s emotionally raw college-set indie feature-length debut “Shithouse” (IFC Films) may have many parents of college-aged kids breathing a sigh of relief that their student offspring isn’t on campus with its depiction of alcohol and drug abuse as well as sexual promiscuity. Additionally, “Shithouse” is notable for the way it presents a freshman’s separation anxiety and how it affects life in the dorm, the dining hall and elsewhere.
Freshman Alex (Raiff) is struggling. He and his roommate Sam (Logan Miller), a young man with serious addiction issues, barely tolerate each other. So that his mother (Amy Landecker of “Transparent” fame) back home in Dallas won’t worry about him, he invents friends, Josh and Emily, and active social life. His closest friend is, in fact, a stuffed animal dog Alex brought from home, with whom he has silent (and occasionally humorous) conversations.
An invitation from Sam to a party at a notorious frat house known as “The Shithouse” leads to Alex’s second interaction with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), his dorm’s R.A. (the first occurred earlier when, wrapped in a towel, he was locked out of his room following a shower). It’s the third time that’s the charm for Alex and Maggie. Planning to crash on a couch in a dorm common area after Sam “dropped a deuce” in their room while in a blackout, Alex encounters Maggie again and she invites him back to her room.
After an unsuccessful attempt at sexual congress, the pair ends up spending the rest of the night together, going for a walk, joining a late-night softball game, giving Maggie’s recently deceased turtle Pete a proper burial, sharing personal details, drinking wine and having another, more successful go at sexual intimacy.
The next morning, Alex is like a new man. He wants to grab breakfast with Maggie with whom he is clearly smitten. It’s obvious Maggie doesn’t feel the same way. She’s anxious to get him out of her room and get on with her day. But there’s more to it than that. Maggie is a love ‘em and leave ‘em type.
Multiple complications arise. While buying the proper hairpieces for a wig party at another frat house, Alex and Sam run into Maggie and her friends and Maggie acts as if she doesn’t even know Alex. It gets worse at the party where she’s cordial to Alex which completely throws him off. Back at the dorm, after Alex gets kicked out of the party, Alex and Maggie have a confrontation and some hurtful things are said.
If you’re asking if the relationship can be saved, you won’t find any spoilers here. Suffice to say that Raiff and Gelula are fantastic, as is Landecker. Some scenes go on way too long, and the movie would benefit from being about 20 minutes shorter. However, if you enjoy college-set movies, such as Kris Rey’s wonderful “I Used to Go Here,” then “Shithouse” might just be your Solo cup of beer.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.