By Andrew Harwood
The college experience is often depicted in film with an emotional, adventurous spirit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it can be cliché nowadays to tell a college story through film.
But, college is incredibly different for each person — we all have our own experiences and encounters. Through such versatility, stories emerge and are told. Many college films are party and sex-driven, over utilizing the young irresponsibility trope, but there are few that remain triumphant in retelling deeply personal experiences in an unconventional manner. That is why this week, we will be focusing on Cooper Raiff’s debut film, “Sh–house.”
Raiff, the film’s writer, director, producer, editor and star, tells the story of a homesick college freshman — Alex, played by Raiff — in California struggling with social anxiety and fitting into the college lifestyle. The synopsis appears to be pretty plain at first, but I can assure you “Sh–house” is very far from plain.
Raiff’s film is, at its heart, a personal story of struggles with love, people, alcohol and of course, college itself. But such struggles aren’t portrayed in an ordinary way. To start, Raiff employs the likes of a stuffed dog to serve as Alex’s conscience and as his buddy — really his only friend. The animal talks through subtitles, delivering Alex’s inner thoughts in an incredibly humorous way.
Further on, the film truly revolves around the emotional aspect of college, specifically when Alex finds what he thinks to be love but ends up ignored and heartbroken. Love is something new for Alex — he moved almost halfway across the country and relied on frequent phone calls with his mother to cope with the pressure.
This is what makes “Sh–house” so unique. The film isn’t afraid to highlight the downsides of college, and is fairly anti-college in the first half by showcasing Alex’s stress and regret. But as he matures, so does the film.
It’s heartbreaking to witness the freshman break down over the phone to his helpless mother, then be rejected by a girl who he truly connected with, but then laugh uncontrollably when he dances in a wig at a college party. The film’s emotional rollercoaster accentuates Raiff’s impressive writing and acting, as well as the film’s unique persona — a portrait of the ups and downs of college life.
I might sound like a broken record signaling the purpose and human aspect of this film, but it really shouldn’t go unnoticed. A personal film is something that should be strikingly felt. A film that doesn’t make you feel anything is little to nothing at all. But who am I to say anything about how one should feel.
Overall, a deeply conventional story told in such an unconventional way makes “Sh–house” a praise-worthy piece.