The college coming-of-age story is such a tried-and-tested subgenre that it’s impressive when someone offers a new take. Freshman Year, the debut feature from writer, director and lead, Cooper Raiff, shows promise with a distinctive perspective on the college/uni experience, but ultimately falls back on disappointing romcom clichés.

Raiff plays Alex, a homesick freshman who is so isolated in this new environment that his closest friend is the cuddly toy wolf he brought from home. At first he is so painfully shy it brings to mind the arrogance of timidity that Orson Welles once lay at Woody Allen’s door. Yes, his dorm mates may seem like brainless hedonists getting wasted every night, but that doesn’t mean he’s better than them.

Thankfully, Raiff’s script develops a sharp eye for slaughtering sacred cows. Alex meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), embarks on a cross-campus odyssey reminiscent of other lo-fi romcoms like Before Sunrise, and she soon brings him back to earth, calling out his cowardice for not even trying to adapt to college life.

This languorous sequence is the heart of the film, shot in patient long takes that expose the tension of those first moments of connection in a new romance. Raiff and Gelula have great chemistry, and when they’re sparking off each other it’s the first time that Alex feels like a real person.

In the smartest move in the script, Raiff flips the dynamic again, shooting down the idea that this magical night might be the start of something special. Nothing is ever that simple, and first impressions can never be trusted.

Freshman Year is sweet, sincere and funny, but it’s hard to forgive the way it ends. After forgoing sentimentalism during Alex’s struggle to become independent, the coda unwittingly implies that he’s regressed into an even weaker person than before, although it’s clearly intended as optimistic.



CAST: Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller

DIRECTOR: Cooper Raiff

WRITER: Cooper Raiff

SYNOPSIS: A lonely college freshman forges a strong connection with his resident assistant during a fraternity party.