One of 2022’s biggest breakout hits no doubt will be CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH. Written, directed by and starring Cooper Raiff, the heartfelt Dramedy about a 22-year-old named Andrew who strikes an unlikely bond with a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). This all set of course in the world of the Bar Mitzvah circuit.
It was our honour to chat with Raiff about this Film, which took the Audience Award in the Dramatic category at Sundance earlier this year. It possesses a rare magic to it that so compassionately takes us into the world of these characters. You don’t forget a Film like CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH and its people.
We ask Raiff about the genesis of the Film and whether or not it is autobiographical.
Raiff: “It’s a very personal movie. None of it’s autobiographical, but all of it is. It’s based on feelings I’ve had, experiences I’ve had, people in my life. It’s always difficult taking things that are personal to you onto a screen. You’re not just trying to have this cathartic thing, you’re trying to communicate to an audience.”
“The genesis of it is that I wanted to make a Movie about a young mom of a disabled daughter. I started pitching those two characters to people and they were like, ‘That’s not a Movie. That’s like two Characters.’. Then I thought of this other character and thought of this idea to tell the story through the lens of the person I knew best in the world, this 22-year-old dummy. I needed a way for them to keep coming into contact with each other and then the Bar Mitzvah circuit idea came in.”.
We ask about what struggles Raiff faced getting something so personal to him to the screen, and also the process of getting Dakota Johnson to sign-on as Executive Producer, in addition to starring as Domino.
Raiff: “Her Producer met her first, Ro Donnelly. I pitched her those four elements, and I pitched her the title CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH, and she told Dakota about it. And we all met, the three of us the next day, and it was night time for Dakota, she was in Greece, about to film The Lost Daughter. And I pitched her this Character and I told her how much I love her as a Performer and how much I really wanted to collaborate with her.”
“A big struggle was that the character of Domino is kinda based on my mom. Lola‘s in a way based on my sister. My sister’s disabled. She’s not Autistic, it’s more severe. She has a condition called Holoprosencephaly where she can’t walk or talk and I really wanted to make a Movie about her. This is what I’m talking about. The struggle of something so personal. I was going to make this Movie about my actual sister and I realized she would’ve been a very terrible Actress. She would’ve looked into the camera the whole time. So what I wanted to communicate was that bond.”
“The best moments of the Movie are when Vanessa Burghardt who plays Lola – watching her audition tape, it just triggered something in me where I started crying so hard, because I knew immediately she was reading with her mom, like her mom was behind the camera. I don’t know why I knew, but I could tell she was frustrated at one point. She was frustrated with her mom. It made me laugh and want to cry and that bond is what I wanted to make the Movie about.”.
Vanessa Burghardt delivers a breakout performance here, in what is her Feature Film debut.Raiff tells us about tackling the topic of Disability in his Film.
Raiff: “Vanessa said that Lola’s a person before she’s a poster for Autism. Something I really care about is that it’s important to respect that we are different. But there’s this line in the Movie where Andrew asks Domino, ‘Is it hard?’ to Lola being Autistic, and she says, ‘Yeah, but not because of her’. That is a key thing with people with disabilities. It’s really harsh. But it’s not hard because of this Disability, it’s hard because of the world we’re living in makes it difficult. And it’s not accessible in many ways. People are idiots. I think it’s important to show that embracing it is really easy.”.
After raves on the Festival Circuit including Sundance, SXSW and more recently the Tribeca Film Festival, Raiff reflects on all the accolades.
Raiff: “It’s been surprising and so emotional and nice. Hearing you talk about it, it gives me chills and I really feel so happy to be talking to you about it.”.
We ask Raiff what’s next?
Raiff: “I’m shooting a Hockey Movie this Fall called THE TRASHERS, based on a True Story about this dad named Jimmy Galante (David Harbour), who gifts his 18-year-old son a Hockey Team, and his son becomes the President of the Team and the story ends with the dad in federal prison. It’s really personal to me and I can’t wait for people to see it!”.
See our Chat here:
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH arrives June 17, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Writer/Director/Actor Cooper Raiff is at Sundance with his third Feature CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH, performing all three duties with equal dexterity. What he’s crafted here is sure to be one of the biggest breakout hits of the Festival. The Film is a sensitive, beautiful and touching coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old man named Andrew, still figuring life out after his girlfriend goes off to Barcelona.
When we meet Andrew, he moves back in with his mom (Leslie Mann), stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett) and little brother David (Evan Assante). He works a mundane job at Meat Stick, a Corndog shop, and after attending a Bar Mitzah with David, his charm makes him a hot commodity with all the local Jewish moms, and he soon finds himself with a hosting gig. He meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), who is on the Autism spectrum and finds himself striking a real connection with the two. Though she is further along in life than he, Andrew finds himself falling for Domino (and she for him too), although she is engaged to be married to Joseph (Raul Castillo). He finds himself at a bit of an impasse figuring it all out and where he fits, as life is about to pull him potentially in several different ways.
Raiff does a superb job in his acting, writing and direction, giving us a full portrait of Andrew. He is a brother, a confidante, a boyfriend and though he is frustrated at times how things aren’t going in his favour or that he hasn’t put it all together yet, we never lose sight of his good heart. He views life with an observant understanding. This is balanced perfectly by elements of humour, lightheartedness and undercurrent of bittersweet emotions which Andrew experiences. This level of care and detail doesn’t just stop at Andrew. We see those around him for who they are and are asked what they want.
This Ensemble of Actors gel together just perfectly. Johnson, whom also serves as Producer, builds upon her impressive catalog of work here as Domino, giving us a quiet chaos and her chemistry with Raiff is electric even if ultimately their relationship is on platonic terms. Mann is effective as Andrew‘s supportive mother, even if his disapproval of her partner Greg provides several of the Film’s most memorable jokes. Promising young talent Assante brings out a nurturing warmth in Andrew, winning us over. And of course, the casting of newcomer Burghardt really punctuates how they got it all right with this Film casting an Autistic actress – a really fantastic on-screen debut that educates as much as it entertains.
This empathic journey of growth proves to be a rewarding one that delivers the laughs as much it is good for the soul, and we’ll be thinking about for some time. Beyond ecstatic for the world to get to know this Film.
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH screens at Sundance as follows:
PREMIEREJAN. 23 4:45PM EST Available Until Jan. 23 7:45PM EST
SECOND SCREENING JAN. 25 10:00AM EST Available Until Jan. 26 10:00AM EST