What does intimacy without Conversation feel like? CRAP. I think it’s the fault of Modern Romance. It is filled with physical intimacy but there is no emotional intimacy left. We have abundant people to sleep with, and rarely anyone to talk to. We are not looking for partners, but mere validation. Are we Good Enough? Will I be accepted? Some of these complex emotions and millennial confusions are explored in “Shithouse” written, directed, produced, and acted by Cooper Raiff.
Cooper Raiff is in full control of his art in “Shithouse”. It looks like a personal memoir on screen but the problem is so truthful and relatable that it could be any millennial’s story. Alex Malmquist (Cooper Raiff), a 19-year-old school student, who lives in a dorm but has no friends. The interesting thing is, Alex isn’t looking for any validation. He is actually an introvert who can’t fake a personality to become likable. But the adverse effect of it, he is lonely and has no one to talk to. But I am going to talk about him, deeply and with all my heart.
The narrative follows two introverts but with different personalities. Alex is an inhabitant. He wouldn’t dare step out of his comfort zone to make friends. Due to which, he has shelved himself. He hates parties, doesn’t talk to strangers or makes an effort to be cheerful. He isn’t egoistic, just shy because he is conscious that people might not be interested in him or think he is weird. Though, he doesn’t look out for their validation and has accepted his self-consciousness. It is the sole reason he misses his home and particularly his mom because she is the only person he talks to.
Another shy and lonely teenager in the dorm is Maggie Hill (Dylan Gelula). Maggie is in the same school as Alex but they aren’t friends. They just sometimes meet in the corridor, doorway or parties. However, the interaction is subtle and regular. Maggie has her share of friends, three girls from the school and a turtle in an aquarium. What differentiates Maggie from Alex is her yearning for acceptability. She wants to be liked and thus, she is looking for validation. Why? (we will discuss later).
When Alex and Maggie have a minor conversation in a party at Shithouse (a legendary party fraternity) and then a proper interaction outside their room on the same night, they click a bit. Maggie invites him to her room but Alex isn’t quite sure. It ends in awkwardness. As the viewers, we have already been told that Alex isn’t quite comfortable with hookups. Thus, he assists Maggie for a night walk to bury her recently dead turtle.
What happens next, is a conversation between two introverts who open up their hearts, but will it amount to anything?
Ironies of Introverts
“Shithouse” has two kinds of introverts. One who is overly emotional, and the other who is avoiding all the emotions. Alex is a guy who is still stuck with an orthodox interpretation of love and intimacy. For him, it is something you don’t do with everyone. It’s for someone special. For Maggie, she just wants to be around people because she is afraid of being alone and all by herself. Alex is actually quite good at being isolated but he doesn’t like it. Thus, at the centre of the narrative, we focus on two complex introverts who are just coping up and growing up.
Majority of Coming of Age drama romance begins with physical intimacy and love catches up later, if it wants to. For Alex, it should be gradual and natural. He doesn’t want to push it in. He gets attached to people and it’s not bad at all. It is when he sleeps with Maggie, he thinks, there is something substantial between them. Alex in his overexcitement stalks her, tries to talk to her, the next day, but she ignores him. For her, it was a one-time thing.
Personally, I never understood a one-time thing. You kissed or hugged someone. How can you literally forget that? I think I am biased towards Alex’s situation but it does feel more real and human. When Maggie ignores Alex and sleeps with someone else, Alex is demented. He misses her mother and his home more. Alex feels, “maybe love and attachment has no place in modern love. It’s just about physical intimacy and validation.”
But it isn’t that Alex is totally correct. He is flawed too. He has a problem in letting things go. It is visible in his character and attached to his past. For Maggie, her search for validation is because of absent parents who were never there for her love and support. Thus, now she looks out that in men, but college men, they are just horny. So she has accepted the fact that she gives away her body to be desired by them. It happens with us. It is visible in today’s society and particularly among teenagers. We go to extreme lengths to cure our loneliness, but that is not a cure at all. It is just an escape. Both Alex and Maggie were looking for an escape and that is why they connected with each other.
Conversations – Saviour of Romantic Indie Films
What’s happening in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995). Two people roaming on the streets of Vienna and conversing. For Cinematic Arts, there isn’t any grand event happening, but yet the conversations are so infectious that the viewers are enchanted by it. Universally, the independent films either stand for an extraordinary premise or for their interesting conversation.
Now, the premise of “Shithouse” is a college romance, coming of age drama which is nothing new and overly done. But, the conversations here are damn interesting and gripping. I was totally bowled up by these complex dialogues in a simple narrative. The two characters speaking their hearts out about things we don’t talk about anymore or shame them in order to avoid such conversation. One such example is when Alex and Maggie are in a verbal fight and defaming each other. Alex asks Maggie why she is ignoring him? Did she not have a good night last night? Maggie says, “I had a great night last night. Now, I am trying to have another great night.” These particular lines layer down the ironies of modern romance. We are trying to replenish the emotions of yesterday, with another great moment today but life doesn’t work like that. If it would have been the case, feelings like nostalgia and memories should be thrown out of the window.
Another provocative layer in the same scene is when Alex gets emotional outside the party and Maggie tells him that he is being a kid for being so sentimental and clingy. I literally got emotional on those accusations because when being emotional is being a kid? But yes, Adults have this misconceived notion that crying shows signs of weakness or there might be something wrong with a person who cries. Society is telling us that suppressing our emotions shows strength. Cooper Raiff through these conversations have covered very thought-provoking and sensitive topics and it’s his genius to portray them so well in a narrative. It delivers the raw ironies of modern romance and human interactions.
Independent films like “Shithouse,” do not have enough budget to spend on locations, actions and VFX. Yet, they are more creative because they have to be interesting in a limited capacity. That breeds for more creativity and brainstorming. A film could be limited by location but ideas come free and conversations are the weapons of the writer. It doesn’t take a dime to write well, but sometimes, full life to understand how to write well. Filmmakers or screenwriters can use this weapon and develop skill as writers to make much more independent and creative films. With that achievement, their efforts won’t be hindered by budget.
Cooper Raiff – Sparkle of the Moment
Cooper Raiff has written and directed the film himself. He has even produced and acted in “Shithouse.” With so many actors coming to Hollywood and standing in long queues of auditions, Cooper Raiff’s effort to make a film instead is a commendable effort. He has even put some bits and pieces of acting and films in the narrative. Alex is a cinephile who spends his loneliness watching films and referring to them. Films are our escape and base of most modern romance, I guess. Maggie wants to try her luck in acting but she is too scared to even try. Alex, though, supports her zeal because he has watched a lot of movies, and hope is the main ingredient which makes films so contagious.
Martin Scorsese has often motivated the young filmmakers to create their own industry. Create their own voice through their own Content. Cooper Raiff has literally made a successful attempt in that direction, as a writer, director and actor. Sorry, If I got over emotional and became full of praise for Cooper Raiff. But, I really loved the attempt by him. As said by Alex, “there is nothing wrong to get hugs to get through the day.” Similarly, there is nothing wrong to support fellow filmmakers and popularize their art, so we see more Quality Cinema in our generation.
“Shithouse” is an extremely engaging film. It lures you into slow magic that takes over your emotional vibe. It speaks the truth without being blunt. Alex is emotional, Maggie is realistic. Which one should we support? It is a similar conflict that we all are struggling with. “Shithouse” might not redeem your confusion but it will give you the strength to endure it. Do watch the film to support Quality Cinema. It’s extremely rare these days.