Cooper Raiff on His New AppleTV+ Indie Romantic Comedy “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

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Timing is everything. It’s a sentiment that 25-year-old writer/actor/director Cooper Raiff knows all too well. His feature debut “S#!%house” moved to a virtual premiere in the early weeks of the pandemic. (“The whole experience was in my pajamas,” Raiff told FOX TV stations of the release of the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival) . Then his second feature, “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” had to swap its scheduled in-person premiere for a virtual premiere as well, as the 2022 Sundance Film Festival adjusted to the Omicron variant. Still, given that they’re both serious romantic dramas about timing, chance, and the ineffable magic of connection, perhaps there’s something thematically appropriate about their winding path to success.

Indeed, like in the best coming-of-age romances, everything seems to have gone well in the end. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” received rave reviews at Sundance, won the People’s Choice Award in the American Drama category, and was quickly picked up by Apple TV+ for an impressive $15 million. It’s now set to hit the streaming service — as well as select theaters — on June 17.

Finally seeing the film with an audience has been “so special,” Raiff told FOX Television Stations after a screening at the Chicago Critics Film Festival in May. “That’s why you make movies,” Raiff explained. “To see them with people.”

Raiff stars in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” as Andrew, a 22-year-old college graduate struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He returns home with his mother (Leslie Mann) and stepfather (Brad Garrett) and quickly falls into a makeshift job as a “goer” at the bar and beats mitzvahs that his little brother David (Evan Assante) almost attends. every weekend. It’s there that Andrew meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), an attractive young mother with a thoughtful, autistic daughter named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Although Domino isn’t exactly in the market, sparks soon start to fly between her and Andrew anyway. And “Cha Cha Real Smooth” tells a beautifully sensitive and deviously complex story about growing up through every stage of life.

Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in “Cha Cha Real Smooth”, premiering June 17, 2022 on Apple TV+.

“Domino was the first thing I started with,” Raiff said of crafting the script. “The first nugget of the film. [She’s] this mother of a disabled child whose life has been defined by her child’s milestones – and forever will be. And it was very interesting for me to make her meet someone who was at a stage in her life that she hadn’t had. And for [Andrew] to give it a little life and moments of security.”

While “Cha Cha Real Smooth” has many of the attributes of an indie romance, its emotional arc is a bit more complicated than your average rom-com. Although Raiff shares many qualities with Andrew – including a warm relationship with his mother and a large age gap with his younger brother – he intentionally decided to write a flawed man. “I don’t like anything about this guy,” Raiff joked when asked to name what he liked most about his character. “Andrew’s thing is asking questions and getting to know someone… It just shows that lack of center and that kind of intense desire to connect and dive into someone’s world. ‘one else.”

WATCH FOR FREE ON TUBI: Dakota Johnson in “Chloe & Theo”get the app

In other words, Andrew’s lovely outward empathy hides all the inner work he has left to do, which he ends up realizing over the course of the film. “I love where he’s headed,” Raiff admitted. “I love that he gets to a place where he’s, like, ‘I have no sense of myself and I’m going to try to find him.'”

Considering the number of hats Raiff has had to wear as an actor, writer and director, he’s quick to acknowledge Dakota Johnson as a crucial collaborator on the film, going so far as to call her his “ghost director.” She pushed him to give Andrew and Domino’s conversation scenes more interesting blocking, which led to a memorable sequence built around popsicles. When they needed to figure out how to adjust a scripted moment of physical intimacy, they came up with the idea midstage. “We were very in sync,” Raiff explained. “We developed the film together, she was there from day one. So it was always our two stories.”

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Vanessa Burghardt and Dakota Johnson in “Cha Cha Real Smooth”, premiering June 17, 2022 on Apple TV+.

Raiff speaks with equal affection for all of his co-stars, from veteran actors like Leslie Mann to newcomers like Vanessa Burghardt. It’s a feeling of warmth that seems to fuel his entire creative process — from writing characters he adores (“I love everything about them”) to working with his actors to figure out how to marry their own personalities to the characters. that they play. To help them “do what they do best”, as he puts it. It all boils down to finding the “smartest, funniest, most dangerous version of this marriage.”

And while Raiff wasn’t so sure he’d make a good real-life party starter (he’s much less of a pure extrovert than Andrew), he found that “directing is like starting a party. was easy to be a party starter on set.”

You can watch the full interview above.

For another coming-of-age love story, try: “Beyond the Lights,” streaming free on Tubi

beyond the lights (2014): This painfully beautiful coming-of-age romance about a pop star named Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is an ode to setting boundaries and not letting anyone control you, even people who raised you. Themes of creative identity, mental health, sexism in the music industry, romantic partnership and family pressure take center stage in this hidden gem of a film from the director “Love & Basketball. “Gina Prince-Bythewood. Rated PG-13. 116 minutes. Real: Gina Prince Bythewood. Also presenting Nate Parker, Mickey Driver, Danny Glover.

“Beyond the Lights” is streaming free on Tubiget the app

How to watch “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” will be available in select theaters and to stream on Apple TV+ starting June 17.

About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre, one film at a time, in her When Romance Met Comedy column for The AV Club. She also co-hosts the film’s podcast, role calland shares his views on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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