Cooper Raiff’s Freshman Year is an alluring picture that goes through the different woes of coming into one’s own upon entering university. The concept is quite simple – one many may have seen before – but it’s the quiet and static shots, the stripped-back form, the dialogue-heavy structure that cements the film as an entirely unique experience. While riddled with clichés and toxic execution of specific tropes, the handling of social anxiety and miscommunication is relatable.
Of note is the use of one night with the hope of romance as the gateway for two completely different and contrasting people to fully realise themselves and their experiences. Two strangers find in each other that push to start living life, involving themselves in the university experience, as well as come to terms with their own misgivings. The pacing, along with heartwarming moments, really accentuate this sentiment; viewers will leave knowing there were lessons learned. However, the destructive relationship between the two and the unresolved issues make the romance – which is at the core of the storytelling – very difficult to get along with.
In general, the protagonist, Alex (played by Raiff) is hard to empathise with. While there is a layer of nuance to his actions and his own struggles are very realistic, his overall characterisation is problematic. He takes on the “nice guy” part, but his actions venture into stalker territory. The romanticism of his fixation with Maggie makes the idea of them ending up together feel quite misguided, and ultimately sends the wrong message. Because the film spends so much of its runtime focusing on the night Alex and Maggie spent together, the conflict and resolution end up with very little space to truly develop. The ending, in turn, feels rushed and unearned.
There are plenty of wonderful things here. For one, the dialogue flows naturally and is true to conversations one hears within the walls of a university; the relationships and dynamics formed are likewise accurate. The comedic elements, while slight, are very much a welcomed presence. On the production side of things, there are no oversaturated filters – rather, the use of natural lighting and still shots manages to create just the right atmosphere and aesthetic, with the indie soundtrack only enhancing this. Even the uneven audio levels further immersion. Overall, the film has its highs and lows – as with any other trip to university.
Freshman Year is released digitally on demand on 1st October 2021.
Watch the trailer for Freshman Year here: