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+.