The engaging doc “Frosh” follows a dormful of Stanford University students through their first year, offering a limited but well-observed perspective on today’s youth/tomorrow’s probable leaders. TV-style aspects of vid-transfer feature will limit theatrical play to fests and college-town theatrical circuit, but broadcast sale prospects are bright.
Coed Trancos Hall houses 40 male and 40 female newcomers to the Northern California institution, eight of whom dominate the filmmakers’ loose focus. From move-in day to start of summer break, these 18-year-olds log familiar rites of passage — partying, bonding, arguing, dating, studying and gossiping for the first time on adult terms.
Pressure-cooker atmosphere is captured with admirable filmic concision and participatory candor. While the kids’ travails will ring bells for anyone with collegiate background, “Frosh” fascinates in its reflection of the shifting 1990 s cultural/academic landscape. Tolerance vs. political correctitude is a constant underlying theme. Notions of homophobia, racism, feminism, religious beliefs and so on occupy so much screentime that p.o.v. sometimes seems skewed. But directors Daniel Geller and Danya Goldfine succeed in conveying the excitement of a period when personalities, goals and values are changed, often for life.
They also succeed in nailing more mundane aspects of campus life in getting us to care about protagonists. Central figures cut a swath across sex-pref, ethnic and class grounds, though presentation rarely feels schematic. Lack of any external commentary is both blessing and dilemma — while one may leave with questions regarding universality given Stanford’s elite stature, tight focus on students pays off emotionally. They’re an endearing, articulate bunch, with plenty of warts viewers with empathetic deja vu can cringe over.
Lensing is good, editing ace; pull-quote title cards separating segs tend to underline vid origins, as does some mediocre scoring.
As one woman puts it, “Everyone’s so insecure about everything” in dorm society. At the end of “Frosh” these fledglings have weathered their first real-world gauntlet in touching microcosm. What’s cheering is the belief that they’ll now use those fundamental discoveries to make the off-campus world a better place.