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Cooper Raiff’s Directorial Debut Is A Tender Moment In An Otherwise Unrelenting Quarantine

As students have come to reconcile with the rudiments of remote learning and social distancing, Cooper Raiff’s “Shithouse” exists simultaneously as an object of reminiscence and of potential — as if such moments are but a memory, and yet an ever-fleeting fuzzy feeling. Released Oct. 26 on Amazon Prime Video, the film lovingly presents the social trials and tribulations that come to define college life — at least, in suburban LA.

A homesick college freshman named Alex (Raiff) confides in his resident assistant Maggie (Dylan Gelula) after several failed attempts to communicate with his erratic, unruly roommate, Sam (Logan Miller). He openly admits his lack of friends, having full-fledged conversations with his stuffed animal, and failure to effectively — and quickly — adapt to the world before him. 

The film revels in the childlike wonder of college-aged relationships, while simultaneously working to demystify its seemingly idyllic nature. It proves that college romance isn’t all sunshine and rainbows: there are exciting highs and dramatic lows; bursts of passion and bouts of conflict; and lively conversations and lengths of silence. One of the more significant qualities that make “Shithouse” such a stand-out is that it straddles between the boundaries of tender and harsh realities — each beat in the dialogue seamlessly baked in wistful guitar strums and misty hues. 

What makes this film a must-see is its inherent relatability to the characters themselves. Specifically, it’s fairly easy to empathize with the oblivious, yet tenderly compassionate Alex, who, after a targeted attack, admits that “there’s nothing wrong with needing hugs to get you through the day.” Over the course of the film, Alex is tempted by the thought of succumbing to the safety net of family back home, which he considers taking “the easy way out.” His outright dependence on familial affection at last tapers to a lesser degree, and he and his mother concede that it’s in his best interest he finds alternative outlets. 

Photos provided by Cooper Raiff @cooperraiff2/Twitter

Such an intimate approach to filmmaking, noted initially in awkward dialogue (that feels as if it’s pulled directly from a conversation between two real-life college students), lays bare Raiff’s acute directorial dedication to honesty. Even Raiff’s deliberate but subtle attention to natural light, which consistently casts a sort of youthful glow upon the characters’ faces, reminds viewers of his preservation of the film’s integrity. 

Alex’s independence, or lack thereof, is more often than not the focal point of the film, lending both to his inability to break out of his shell and his subsequent feelings of loneliness. While often the source of humiliation from an indifferent Maggie, it becomes apparent that she, like many of us viewers, are all too familiar with the pains of seemingly sudden rejection, emotional instability and unintentional isolation. Such vulnerable representations of human emotion alone make “Shithouse” a film worth seeing, for it is in these moments when the characters ache in seemingly insurmountable pain, that the audience feels most fervently for them. It is in these instances where we’d like to reach out, past the confines of a television screen, to embrace such characters with arms wide and hearts full. 

Above all, “Shithouse” depicts college relationships with such moving affection that, while poignantly captured in a 99-minute film, spans a much broader, more universal sensitivity to the sentimentality of young love. Simply put, the film parallels the lives we’ve come to grasp, experiences we grapple with on a day-to-day basis, with such lasting severity, that to avoid viewing this film would be a disservice to one’s own life experience.  

Mia Hammett is a Contributing Writer. She can be reached at hammettm@uci.edu