Man, my college years were great. I’m sure yours were, too. Or maybe you were in the other camp: the people who didn’t like college. It was hard for me to understand the mentality of those students back then, so it was difficult for me to relate to the lead character in “Shithouse,” who is really just a homesick mama’s boy. That’s not meant to sound like a bullying taunt, but it is one of the major stumbling blocks for writer / director Cooper Raiff‘s semi-autobiographical feature.
Lonely college freshman Alex (Raiff) is having a difficult time adjusting to life away from home. He calls his mom (Amy Landecker) and sister almost daily, hasn’t made any friends, and spends most of his time alone in his dorm room with his obnoxious roommate (Logan Miller). Alex wants to transfer to a college closer to home until he meets an RA named Maggie (Dylan Gelula) at a party, and the two hit it off. After a one night stand, Alex becomes obsessed with the girl who now just wants him to go away.
The film hits absolute perfection when it comes to portraying an accurate, authentic college experience. Everything about this movie is realistic, down to the way Maggie acts when she runs into Alex while with her friends to the late-night “deep” dorm conversations about life. The dialogue and the situations are deeply rooted in truth. Raiff conveys the overwhelming anxieties that many teenagers struggle with when they are thrust into their first taste of independence and struggle to figure out who they are in their new world of budding adulthood.
The movie never feels slow, but it’s not a film I’d want to revisit. One of the biggest problems is that Alex and Maggie aren’t really a couple that belong together. I was indifferent about their relationship, and I found that I wasn’t rooting for them to end up together at all. They both seem like they have a ton more growing up to do, but maybe that’s just the older and wiser person in me looking back on those years and shaking my head.
“Shithouse” reminds me of a low-budget, college version of “Before Sunrise,” but with characters and story arcs that aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s still a terrific and intimate on-screen portrayal of the restless angst that so many of us remember, and remember fondly, about our own foray into the great world of independence.