Freshman Year (2019): College drama that has trouble fitting in

Strange story of student struggles

Those of you who can recall your student days will remember that many of the guys and girls fell into one of two distinct categories: those that took to uni life like a duck to water, and those that struggled with new people, being away from home for the first time, etc. For the latter bunch, it can be a time of real self-discovery.

Which is where Freshman Year really hits the mark. Sadly, it doesn’t quite make the cut in other departments.

Our main man Alex (Cooper Raiff), is struggling. Terribly homesick, he’s been paired with a layabout roommate Sam (Logan Miller), and the two of them are outcasts when it comes to the social scene. But when he meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), it looks like he’s found someone to ease the angst. Sounds like the synopsis of your typical teen movie, but this is rather too deep for all that.

Which is proof, if proof were needed, that you should always insist on having your own room! But getting a clear idea of the core struggle and making sense of what’s going on overall, takes nearly 20 minutes. This could be forgiven if the ensuing watch wasn’t a bit of a let-down, but on the whole it’s a case of boy meets girl; boy and girl shoot the breeze. Things move forward in such a way that it’s far too pedestrian, plus we’ve no idea how we’ve arrived at a particular point in Alex’s journey.

It’s a shame, as it’s a brave stab from Raiff, who also makes his debut as director and producer. Yet in trying to be an alternative to the usual college/high school fare, which has populated our screens for the last two decades-plus, it becomes a misfit all of its own. Is it trying to be a regular movie, or one of those annoying docu-films that look like they’ve been shot on home video? Did it start life as a college survival manual which was then adapted for the screen? Which genre does it even want to be part of?

Nearing the halfway mark, it again starts to show promise, but this is simply another false dawn. In fact, if this was remade as the first and last episodes of a TV series, cutting out the middle part (which seems like it’s there just to kill the running time) it could work very well. The last part of the film – barring the last 10 minutes, which are just plain confusing – does everything the rest doesn’t. There just isn’t enough depth to sustain a full-length feature, rendering it as introspective, Film4 fodder, and something you could just listen to without any visuals. This further exposes the weak writing and direction.

In terms of interesting and provocative opinions on a diverse range of subjects, it’s to be applauded. Other than this, there’s precious little to shout about, making it an abject lesson in how not to make a movie. Freshman Year is released in cinemas and digitally on Friday, February 19.


What's in a name?

If the story sounds familiar, this movie was originally titled Shithouse.

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