Notwithstanding its original title of Shithouse, Freshman Year is both moving and funny: a painfully well observed snapshot of college life and the feeling all university students when they’re away from home for the first time. Cooper Raiff writes, directs and stars as Alex, a shy, sensitive and lonely first-year struggling to settle into college life. His roommate, Logan Miller’s oafish Sam, is all about the partying and the faux uber masculinity of drinking and shagging.
Made from gentler stuff, Alex has a younger sister and caring mum (Transparent’s Amy Landecker), while his father has recently passed away. At a party, he bonds with Dylan Gelula’s Maggie and they have a Before Sunrise-type evening as they go on a quest to bury her recently deceased turtle. The chemistry crackles between them, the dialogue sharp and believable as they discover their likes, dislikes and differences, each guarded in different ways.
Raiff captures this fledgling relationship brilliantly, including its subsequent ups and downs. He also paints a winning picture of Alex’s homelife, and the pain of a parent when their loved ones leave home. Gelula is superb as the girl who is afraid of relationships, Raiff as the person desperate to have one, liking her Instagram posts with fervent aplomb. The supporting cast of student friends are also instantly relatable and recognisable, but it’s the likeable double act of Raiff and Gelula that feels the most profound.
Freshman Year’s plot may be slight but its observations are fresh, and told with a warmth and believability few coming of age films have. You root for the pair of them as they fumble towards an understanding of each other; Cooper Raiff is a name to watch as he charmingly captures their formative moments with grace and humour.
Dir: Cooper Raiff (15, 101 mins)
Out now via digital download
words KEIRON SELF