Sh*thouse: Don't Mind the Title, It's a Very Moving Film About College
Updated: May 26, 2022
There are two defining scenes of Sh*thouse. Both involve the protagonist Alex- a loner freshman struggling to adapt to his new college life- on the phone with his mom. The first time he calls his mom, he indirectly vents about his emotional struggle by telling her he is sick, prompting her to belabor about what medicine to take. After a few cuts between him and his mom the camera then stays on him listening to the sound of his mother’s voice, comforted by the familiarity of it, the love and care of it, the voice of home. After they hang up, he starts crying.
I’ll get to the second phone call scene but first let me say soft boys rejoice! Even though the title sucks, we have another ad hoc low-budget mopey romance to cling to. Yet Dallas writer/director Cooper Raiff’s (also Alex in the film) SXSW winning film is so much more than the central pairing. Sh*thouse begins 6 months into Alex’s freshman year of college and he still has no friends. His roommate Sam is a grade-A douchebag and he can’t seem to find anyone to connect to. Then Sam invites him to a frat party at the eponymous Shithouse.
Later into the night, he gets to talking with his RA in the dorm, Maggie (Dylan Gelula, beyond talented, oscillating between outright fun and sympathetic to armored reserve and pity). A Linklater-esque night ensues (What is it about Texas filmmakers making these great walk and talk romances? After being in Europe with the Before Trilogy, Linklater also tackled college but where the dialogue of Everybody Wants Some!! focused on the comedy and partying with a hint of romance, Raiff’s film goes for the trials of college through the dichotomy of the central romance), they walk the town in the night getting to know each other, talk about Alex’s sad college life, and suddenly college doesn’t seem so bad to him. That’s because he’s met this girl of course, but a girl that is much different than him. Where Alex was raised with love and care, has a close relationship with his mother and sister (his dad died when he was young), Maggie’s background is a little more complicated. Hence, their approaches to college are also very different. Therefore, things get rough before they’re good again.
What’s so great about this film, besides its naturalism and the max-chill free flowingness, is the genuine care put into it. These types of indie films don’t always work, but there’s so much to care about here with its empathy and so much to relate to with its authenticity. It’s college! So many of us have forgotten our keys to our room after taking a shower in the dorm and if you didn’t make that call to your mom that first semester asking her what the hell you’re doing then good for you but I’m not ashamed to say I did and thank God I did because my mom took the tough love approach and told me to gut up and get going. I’m so grateful she did. But the thing about Sh*ithouse (seriously, such a terrible title for a film with so much heart) is that it’s telling you that it is perfectly okay that you called your mom. In fact, keep calling your mom.
Alex does call his mom again- the aforementioned second scene- and this time he lets it all out but tells her he has to try harder now, meaning his prolific check-ins are now going to be not as prolific. His mom understands this of course, but they both cry on their respective ends of the phone, the son finally realizing he has to adapt to his new life and the mom sad that he is growing up, but knowing he is going to be fine. We all are. Then college becomes some of the best years of your life and before you know it, you’re missing that dorm room and the ridiculousness of it all.
Going to college or growing up in general doesn’t mean you suddenly become this independent, free spirited funaholic party-goer. Leaving home is hard, your mom is always on the other end of that phone and your tears are valid. Another winning theme for the soft boys here, crying is perfectly alright! For real though, Alex is a great character. He’s a solid, tender, and sensitive guy (“There’s nothing wrong with needing hugs to get you through the day.”) who takes his stuffed animal to college with him even though he’s way more grown up than he realizes. It’s also wonderful to have depictions of great moms, they always get to me, myself having a real life great mom. Maggie is also a great character, her and Alex’s long night together is one of the best scenes this year. And Sh*thouse, surprisingly, is one of the best films of the year. While the ending is a bit rushed and maybe not fully earned, it’s believable and real and true.
So many good things come out of viewing this movie. Cathartic and reminiscent tears will be shed, college memories will be dusted off in your mind, and you will be reminded that the loneliness of growing up is an ephemeral thing thanks to love.
Sh*thouse is available to rent on VOD. Search it with the asterik.