Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 15th, 2020
S#!%house (Cooper Raiff, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
In Cooper Raiff’s debut feature, S#!%house, the writer/director/star plays Alex, a college freshman whose first year away from home is not going as he had hoped. Originally from Texas, he now finds himself in Los Angeles, at Occidental College, where his social awkwardness does not help him make friends. Fortunately, he has his mom and younger sister to rely on for moral support, though perhaps it might be better were he to cut that emotional cord, or at least lengthen it a bit. Between his stoner roommate and a complete lack of interest in his studies, however, he feels lost, so he might as well call home. Thus begins this gentle, bittersweet, occasionally profound meditation on the challenges of growing up that hits the dramatic mark more often than it misses. Well-shot and filled with solid performances, including from Raiff, S#!%house sprays away the occasional stench of its cinematic clichés with a fresh breeze of insightful writing and entertaining mise-en-scène.
Right away we know we’re dealing with a lonely young man when we see Alex talking to a stuffed coyote in his dorm room (the coyote answers back, via onscreen subtitles). As his roommate, Sam (Logan Miller, Escape Room), plans what to do that night, Alex ponders where the magic of high school went. Until, that is, he musters the courage to ask Sam about the evening’s parties. Together, they end up at S#!%house, a frat that may bear the title of the movie (which ends up being metaphorical, rather than literal), yet plays little role in the story beyond the festivities that end up making Alex even lonelier (though a drunk young woman does actually kiss him). Back at the dorm, as he flees his room to escape a so-loaded-that-he-crapped-his-pants Sam, he runs in to his RA (resident assistant), a sophomore named Maggie (Dylan Gelula, Support the Girls). Feeling a bit forlorn, as well, she invites Alex back to her room, and the night goes from there.
But not as you might think. What follows is a sweet ramble through the streets around campus, filled with small, tender moments that recall Richard Linklater’s charming 1995 Before Sunrise. Though only a year older, Maggie has her s#!% together a bit more. Okay, that may not be true. In the meantime, however, she and Alex share thoughts and feelings, living what seems a full romance in just a few hours, complete with final hookup. They even bury her beloved turtle, who just died, together. Now that’s bonding.
Sadly, the morning brings a rude awakening, as Alex’s neediness immediately sends Maggie packing, which further throws the young man into an emotional tailspin. But hey, at least that forces him to make some other friends. As it turns out, though, there is more to Maggie (and to everyone) than just surface dimensions, and by the end, we have grown to love the characters, even when they annoy. It’s too bad that Raiff doesn’t trust his initial conclusion, however, which is beautifully open-ended, preferring to tack on a silly “2½ years later” coda that offers too much of a saccharine finish. That misstep, aside, S#!%house is otherwise a pleasant diversion that should bring even those of well past our bright college years back to their highs and lows. Bring on the pomp and circumstance.