Shithouse: Everybody Gets a Trophy, by David Bax
Shithouse, the Duplass-approved directorial debut of a young white male who also wrote the screenplay and plays the film’s lead (as well as co-editing the picture), is a semi-autobiographical dramedy inspired by Before Sunrise. In other words, there are more red flags than you can count. So it’s a pleasant surprise that it’s much more thoughtful and self-aware than its pedigree would suggest. The most refreshing evidence of this is that the female lead that director/writer/star/co-editor Cooper Raiff plays off of is, in many ways, the opposite of the manic pixie dream girl. She’s more of a grown-up, rational dream woman and she doesn’t accept Alex (Raiff) unconditionally. He has to work on himself to be worthy of her consideration.
Alex is a college freshman who’s having trouble adjusting to life away from home, to put it mildly. After reluctantly tagging along to a party with his oft-inebriated roommate, Sam (Logan Miller), Alex splits off and spends the night walking around the campus and its environs, talking with his dorm floor RA, Maggie (Dylan Gelula).
If Shithouse does fall into any obvious traps of retchingly cutesy indie fare, it’s in the plucky guitar music on the soundtrack. Even good songs by the likes of Waxahatchee and Girlpool feel like obvious choices for the genre.
Less expected is Raiff’s willingness to invite judgment of Alex. So many sad white boy movies, like Garden State, are protective of their stunted protagonists. They want you to sympathize without condemning their heroes too much for their own culpability. Shithouse goes out of its way to show Alex in a pathetic light before ever attempting to get you on his side. He still wears a hoodie with the name of his high school on it and calls his mom (Amy Landecker) every day. When you realize that he’s six months into the school year and not two weeks, you may want to scream, “Cut the umbilical cord, dude!” His night with Maggie doesn’t lead to any easy revelations, either. On the contrary, he gets worse, taking on the traits of the entitled “nice guy.” Still, even when he’s at his most cringey (sending WAY too many Instagram DMs) or most pathetic (crying on the phone to his mom), Raiff still lets us laugh at him.
Landecker is perfect in her smallish but crucial role. Going broad here would make Shithouse come across as a condemnation of that boomer boogeyman, a softest generation of kids raised by helicopter parents. Landecker is too nuanced for that. Plus, it wouldn’t explain why Alex seems to be the only maladjusted freshman in the dorms.
In any case, Shithouse‘s strengths don’t lie in anything like generational statements. Instead, Raiff proves himself a remarkably assured writer/director, trusting in his screenplay and his cast to maintain interest in what is a considerably low-key affair. With the exception of an unnecessary and overly neat epilogue, Shithouse is an unforced, patient and unpredictable first film.