Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 19, 2021)
When I write reviews, I try to keep things “family friendly” and avoid profanity. When I deal with a movie called Shithouse, though, I find little wiggle room.
What else can I do but say “fuck it” and go with the flow?
College freshman Alex Malmquist (Cooper Raiff) lacks a connection to university life and enjoys few social outlets. Awkward as he may feel, though, he decides to take risk and attend a bash at a famed “party fraternity” known as “Shithouse”.
While at this shindig, Alex appears to bond with fellow student Maggie Hill (Dylan Gelula), but when he pursues her the next day, she blows him off. Eager to reclaim this sensation, Alex tries to get back this link.
When I enter a release from a person who writes, directs and stars in the movie, my inner cynic rises to the fore. Too many of these kinds of flicks exist mainly as vanity projects meant to accelerate the writer/director/actor’s career.
I become even more skeptical when I find an auteur the age of Raiff. Only 23 during production, he seems awfully young to bite off the aspirations of Shithouse.
Still, Raiff’s youth doesn’t condemn Shithouse to become a dud. Even in the well-worn “coming of age” style narrative, the film shows promise.
Unfortunately, Shithouse squanders any potential with a turgid tale. Slow and nearly devoid of anything to make it interesting, this turns into a tough slog.
Alex and Maggie’s “big night” fills a tremendous amount of the running time. They connect at about the 18-minute mark and they don’t split up until 1:00:45.
If Raiff found compelling material to fill that 42-minute span, this would seem like time well spent. However, Raiff creates two characters who never seem even vaguely interesting and he sticks them with dialogue that takes us nowhere.
On one hand, you could argue that a conversation between two 19-year-olds probably should seem random and pointless. I certainly don’t claim my college chats offered anything other than misguided attempts at profundity.
If Raiff awarded faux “deep” dialogue, that would at least feel true to life, and if he gave the roles material with some actual cleverness, that would work too. Unfortunately, Raiff writes lines that never seem anything other banal and witless.
Again, perhaps one could argue that most chats between 19-year-olds – especially semi-inebriated 19-year-olds - should seem less than stimulating. Nonetheless, even if realistic, this doesn’t create an interesting cinematic experience.
Even though Raiff bases Shithouse off his own life, I don’t think the conversation boasts a sense of reality. Raiff’s dialogue feels dull but not believable, as the material comes across as bland and inert.
Matters don’t improve after Maggie and Alex split, as we find ourselves stuck with still more soul-crushing material. Alex quickly graduates from sad nerd to clueless stalker.
Clearly Raiff seems to want to portray Alex in a sympathetic manner, but he instead comes across as a whiny weirdo. Alex complains about how awful college after two cute women throw themselves at him? Seriously?
Raiff also seems too old for the part, as he looks 23 going on 35. Perhaps to compensate, he casts older actors for the other major roles, but since all looked younger than he does, this doesn’t succeed.
Really, nothing about Shithouse works. All at once, it seems slow, dull and pretentious, and that makes for a weak combination.