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Freshman Year

Amid a sea of red cups and a dance floor filled with drunkenly swaying bodies, a boy and a girl lock eyes across the room. All the familiar genre clichés are here, and yet Cooper Raiff’s Freshman Year feels surprisingly fresh. More grounded and authentic than many of its predecessors, this is a disarmingly tender rom-com that will surely resonate with younger viewers.

Grieving the freshman experience he dreamed of, Alex (Raiff) is debilitatingly homesick and struggling to adjust to the college lifestyle. Sitting silently in his dorm, he cuts a lonely figure. That is, until he secures an invite to the Shithouse fraternity’s party. Here he meets sophomore Maggie (Dylan Gelula), the first person he’s shared a real connection with at college. The film focuses on the pair’s concentrated time together, from their midnight escapades through to the following morning’s awkwardness.

The empathy with which Raiff regards both protagonists is immediately apparent. Dissolving the sugar coating of the American college movie, Freshman Year finds poignancy in realistic moments. When Alex and Maggie are hooking up, he suddenly asks to stop. So they do. Instead of continuing straight away, they talk. It is a refreshing scene that lends itself to the wider implication of the film being an in-touch portrait of Gen Z.

This is a semi-autobiographical work from the 23-year-old writer/director, and certain moments feel so lived-in that there’s no doubt he’s said these words before. Raiff’s script gives Maggie plenty to say, too. While Alex is a more sensitive soul who craves a meaningful relationship, Maggie is more unfussy and pragmatic when it comes to matters of the heart. As the pair grow more familiar Rachel Klein’s lens pushes closer. During a midnight hike they pause and sit cross-legged on the dirt. Suddenly, the college students look more like children. Soft light illuminates their open expressions as they ponder their transition into adulthood and bicker over the purpose of college.

Earning some of the film’s most earnest laughs, Maggie’s trio of friends deserved more substantial screen time. Elsewhere, Alex’s roommate (Logan Miller) has his own wannabe stand-up comedian storyline that makes for a more conventional college narrative thread than Alex’s formative experience. Overall, this wonderfully promising debut from Raiff transposes personal experience brilliantly and showcases the filmmaker’s talent both in front of and behind the camera.


Another Gen Z rom-com...


A refreshing take on a stale genre.


Raiff deserves all the credit he’s getting.


Directed by

Cooper Raiff


Cooper Raiff,

Amy Landecker,

Dylan Gelula

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