Alone among People
By Sadira Sittampalam
S#!%house is a 2020 film written and directed by Cooper Raiff which centres around a lonely college freshman who while at a fraternity party manages to forge a strong connection with his resident assistant. This film has a level of authenticity that I rarely see in movies these days. It punctures so deep into your being that you have no choice but to empathise with the struggles of the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood and leaving home.
The film follows Alex who despite being in college for quite a while, has yet to make any real friends. When he finally makes an effort to get out there and make some friends, he finally starts a conversation with his resident assistant Maggie at a party in a frat house called - you guessed it - Sh!thouse. For a movie called S#!%house, it is pretty surprising that it was one of the most heartfelt and relatable movies that I’ve watched all year. The introduction to this film was full of conversations that are so awkward, pricking you with second-hand embarrassment. But the reason all of this works so well is because we’ve all been in a conversation that is just as awkward, a conversation that you cringe when thinking about it or just tried to erase from your memory. The dialogue in this movie just brings all of these painful memories back and shows you exactly how painful they are.
This movie just isn’t afraid to get awkward while also doing awkwardness so accurately, especially with the phrases that all of us have had to use like, “Wow, that’s so crazy,” along with a host of unnecessary apologising. This movie even manages to showcase all of those natural awkward silences you would have with another person, in a way where it isn’t being blatant about how ‘awkward’ the conversation is. Silence is just a natural part of every conversation. The realism even extends to all the jokes in the movie as it's all just so mildly humorous and never really laugh-out-loud funny. It is something that any of us would say in conversation rather than like a heavily scripted one-liner. While this film does market itself as a comedy, this isn’t the case as I didn’t really laugh at all. However, you do tend to grin - or maybe grimace - at all the cringe-worthy moments in this movie.
Meanwhile, most of the narrative tended to subvert my expectations, which I feel had a lot to do with the title of the movie, as it made it seem like this was going to be a pretty by-the-books college coming-of-age story. As you can probably tell by now, this was pretty far from the truth as every time I thought I had this movie figured out, it would change course. It was just very sincere about its plot and truly wanted to deliver a story true to the experience of growing up in college, rather than the narrative of growing up in college.
Alex (who is played by the director Raiff) was also such a great character, as he was never shown as the traditional or stereotypical shy person. This movie just really understands that being shy isn’t the domineering factor in a person's personality and that a person doesn’t automatically grow a flawless personality when they are with someone they are comfortable with. Alex grows into himself gradually throughout the movie, but a hint of awkwardness is always present. Even Maggie, the resident assistant, who is decidedly a lot less awkward than Alex, still partakes in the awkwardness of what everyday life is and the experience of meeting someone new and having a conversation with them.
It simply shows you that awkwardness is everywhere, and it is more up to you to decide whether to let it affect you or not. While the performances in this film were great and once again very accurate to how one would say things and behave in real life, the best part of the movie was seeing how they used body language to undertone the scenes. Awkwardness in particular was something you get to see through Alex’s body language, with a lot of lip biting, peeling off the labels of wine bottles, and not knowing what to do with your hands. These are things that aren’t even really focused on in the film, you just notice it in the background or if you are really paying attention to him. Meanwhile, the craft side of this film was also up to par, giving us some steady long takes and personal closeups to help complement the intimacy of this film.
At the end of the day though, the narrative is what takes the cake, as this movie was just great at personalising this shared experience of growing up and leaving home. This movie was unique, captivating, and engaging from start to finish, and while you are going to have to stomach a lot of cringe, it's not much more than what you deal with day-to-day in real life. This movie was also the directorial debut of director, writer, producer and actor Raiff, so it is safe to say you should keep an eye out for his name in the future.