Most films about the college experience truck with overdrinkers, stoners, horny frat boys and kids who just want to have fun. To hell with academic pursuits. These youngsters are here to party! Everyone else is a nerd. If you believe these tropes, American universities are rivers that flow with beer and semen. Throw in a scared freshman, stir with a cocktail and a hyperaware co-ed, and by the end of the film we see the ascendency to man unfold before our very eyes.

In Shithouse, Cooper Raiff stars as Alex, a freshman who struggles not only with the aforementioned tropes at a Los Angeles college, but also with his classes and the separation from his mother and sister. Raiff, who also directed, wrote the script and produced the movie, plays Alex with a level of naiveté that is both cloying and endearing. He feels out of sorts at parties, struggles with his crass, stoner roommate and takes most of his meals alone. Alex calls his mom quite often for advice and spends lonely evenings cuddling with a stuffed toy. A far cry from Animal House this is.

Then Alex meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the resident assistant from his dorm, at a party at the place his classmates call the shithouse. Here the movie pushes away from fish-out-of-water comedy into a more serious Linklaterian conversation as Alex and Maggie connect and appear to take a shine to one another. This shift, from vomit jokes to a fairly lengthy D+M conversation feels jarring, but there is an earnest energy here that makes it hard to write off completely.

For all of Alex’s puppy-dog tendencies, Maggie is a perfect foil, coming off cool and distant. After a failed sexual encounter at the party with another boy, Maggie invites Alex back to her room. There, they share feelings about their families and mortality, as Maggie’s pet turtle has just died. This sends the pair out into the night where they meander and talk. And while they do mine towards some interesting revelations, Raiff’s dialogue sometimes gets in the way of a good movie. Exhibit A: “death is ass.” Both actors are likable, especially Gelula who adroitly switches from Maggie’s tender interior to prickly exterior.

At this point, the movie is only halfway finished. The next morning, Maggie is aloof and wants Alex to leave. Smitten and confused, Alex sends her multiple messages on Instagram throughout the day. Raiff loses the thread as Alex tries to discover why Maggie is no longer interested, pushing the second hour towards an ill-advised coda that feels totally tacked on. Shithouse, despite its crappy title, is alternatingly charming and frustrating. Our choices for first-run movies are pretty limited right now and if you’re looking for a wide-eyed tale of first love, you could do much worse. Just don’t expect John Belushi.

Summary
Despite its crappy title, Shithouse is alternatingly charming and frustrating.
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