Plus: why the movie title shouldn't scare away your grandma.

By Omar Sanchez
October 16, 2020 at 01:00 PM EDT
Credit: IFC Films

When you're going off to college, falling for someone quickly and shamefully is almost written in the curriculum. In the case of the newest uni-comedy Shithouse, it's Alex (Cooper Raiff) and Maggie (Dylan Gelula) who find a sort of surprising, aimless romantic connection with one another — while experiencing the worst kind of third-hand embarrassment time and time again. The film's director, writer, and star Raiff tells EW in a recent Zoom call (alongside Gelula) that he didn't try to research other college love stories as prep for his first feature. Instead, Raiff, a recent college grad himself, took a crash course in oddball couples with 2003's Lost in Translation

"I've always thought of [Gelula] as a Bill Murray," Raiff says of his costar. "I find Maggie's dynamic in Shithouse similar to Bill's [in Lost in Translation], in a very roundabout away."

The Best Picture-nominated Lost in Translation, the Oscar-winning romantic comedy from 2003 directed by Sofia Coppola (she also recently directed another Murray flick, On the Rocks), follows a fading movie star out on a commercial job in Tokyo, who sparks a companionship with a recent college graduate (played by Scarlett Johansson). Raiff connected to the film's drifting vibe. "A big theme for me was how much I felt l was floating in college," he saysI felt like I didn’t have the rocks to ground me," says the 23-year-old Raiff. "First of all, you can't take care of someone else until you've taken care of yourself. Figure your s--- out."

Speaking of s—, the film's creative title was not meant for shock value. Shithouse is the name of a frat house at Alex's college, but it's really about what Alex and Maggie are stepping in all the time: “He crosses so many lines," Raiff says. "The whole movie is just him taking 90 steps back."

Take Alex and Maggie's first night together. After a clumsy but fruitful hookup, Alex is distraught when Maggie is nowhere to be found the next day. No texts. No Snaps. Nothing. "I think men have this possessive quality where they think they’re owed something. I think it all comes out in that scene. He thinks he deserves something because they had something that night," Raiff says.

Maggie doesn't wait for Alex to grow up, but that doesn't mean she isn't holding real feelings underneath. "With Maggie there's an artifice to the maturity," Gelula says. "I think something that might get lost in the conversation, just because the whole movie is from Alex's point of view, is the way Maggie also had it go not the way she wanted it to go. She really liked this person, and you have a really fun night, and then he comes on too strong. That's disappointing."

Raiff adds: “People don’t want you there when you’re going through your own exorcisms."

Shithouse is now playing in select theaters and available on-demand.