Written and directed by lead actor Cooper Raif, a lonely college freshman forges a strong connection with his resident assistant during a fraternity party. Also starring: Dylan Gelula, Logan Miller, Amy Landecker and Olivia Scott Welch.
It’s easy to assume every teen romance, drama or comedy is going to be more of the same, as a lot of the time you’d be right but Freshman Year is different. Right from the start it’s extremely awkward, it leaves you unsure of what it’s going for. It’s a risky choice, as at a certain point it does almost cross over into being annoying but then it reveals itself. It’s modern, cute and quirky, the pacing is slightly strange and it moves too slowly at points but there is a charm to it. It’s a similar case with its characters, they’re hard to get a read on at first. Eventually it becomes clear that Cooper Raif has created a refreshing male perspective, Alex is sensitive, in touch with his emotions, honest and self aware. It traverses some classically cringe worthy teen arenas and so will likely connect most with a younger audience but there is still a wider appeal.
Raif’s performance is surprisingly emotional, the character still feels familiar but more relatable and generous than the typical teen leads before him. He makes a great pair with Dylan Gelula (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Support the Girls), they have a strong chemistry, it’s sweet without being sickly, and clear without being forced. The two of them bring the film’s strongest comedic element, they have a good banter. Logan Miller (Escape Room, Love Simon) brings the typical party-boy roommate, all drinking, no studying but he does it with his own spin. One of the strange factors is casting Olivia Scott Welch (Fear Street) and having her in scenes where she barely says anything, she sadly isn’t given enough chance to build her character and feels wasted.
Visually the film is much more as you’d expect, but it goes down its own path rather than trying to emulate Hughes like so many others. It’s modern and doesn’t try too hard to be flashy or instil a forced sense of college fun. The only outlier is its use of music which doesn’t feel at all in keeping with its unusual personality. There’s nothing that feels too unique about the direction but it all works.
Freshman Year is a new take on the classic college romance, with Insta creeping, open emotions and surprisingly no overly silly or crude humour. Cooper Raif has created a uniquely modern male character for himself, bringing an honest, kind guy who doesn’t want to play games and is concerned about making emotionally healthy choices. He’s well paired with Dylan Gelula, the two are very easy to watch with a natural connection. It’s a little odd and unusual, it could be improved in places but it is refreshing to see something new added to the genre.