Tag Archives: Cooper Raiff

Everybody Clap Your Hands

Cha Cha Real Smooth

by Hope Madden

Dakota Johnson is the unquestioned star of indie darling coming-of-age drama Cha Cha Real Smooth, but it’s writer/director/co-star Cooper Raiff who’s shining bright enough to blind you.

The twentysomething filmmaker, fresh off his tender and insightful feature debut Sh*thouse, spins another yarn defined by vulnerability.

Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college grad sleeping on a blow-up mattress in his little brother’s bedroom and working at Meat Sticks until he figures something else out. A surprising opportunity arises at a bat mitzvah he attends with his brother (Evan Assante). Andrew has a gift for making sure everyone has a great time—including lonely single mom Domino (Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). The other moms are so impressed, they all hire him to host their kids’ events.

Sure, it pays, but it’s silly. Harmless. Pointless. How fun, and also tragic. It’s an apt metaphor for Andrew, who was so good at being young and is now a little lost. Gen X had Lloyd Dobbler. Gen Z has Andrew.

Solid support from Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett offers Raiff opportunities to subvert tropes with surprising compassion. There are also more than enough laughs to balance the drama.

Johnson’s greatest strength as a performer is the almost preternatural chemistry she shares with everyone else on screen. That connection with Raiff aches with human tenderness, as does the entire film.

As an actor, Raiff’s performance is open — a strength his direction capitalizes on with long, breathing takes and intimate close-ups. The plot isn’t rushed or forced. Raiff’s writing weaves through complicated situations and emotions without the need to tidy up. The anxiety and pathos feel all the more honest because no one is safe from them. But the film empathizes thoroughly with its characters, applauding every brave and awkward act of intimacy.

Cha Cha Real Smooth, which won Sundance’s dramatic competition this year, overflows with charm and warmth. More than that, it points to a remarkable cinematic voice that’s just getting started.

Stuffed Animal House


by Matt Weiner

It takes a certain bravery to cast yourself as a leading man who spends more time talking to his mom and stuffed dog than the romantic object of his affection. But Shithouse, the loosely autobiographical festival favorite from writer/director Cooper Raiff, isn’t the typical college comedy.

It starts in familiar enough territory. Raiff plays Alex, an awkward college freshman who feels like a fish out of water in Los Angeles and is homesick for his family back in Texas. It’s not clear that Alex has really talked to anyone besides his roommate, until a chance encounter brings him together with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), his dorm RA.

There’s an oblique chemistry between Alex and Maggie, a connection that’s undeniably there but blossoms as erratically as their first peripatetic night together wandering campus. So much of the movie starts to take on this collegiate version of Before Sunrise that it’s all the more disarming when their relationship takes a turn.

It’s also where Raiff’s script takes Shithouse from standard coming-of-age fare to something far more moving and empathetic. And refreshing: the writing is sensitive to its characters without flattering them. Young people behave terribly, but there’s a measure of grace the film affords them that feels welcome to anyone willing to put in the work to be a better person in a very public social media era.

For Alex, that means interrogating what it means to be a so-called nice guy. But it’s Gelula who steals the movie. Maggie has a mix of confidence and world-weariness that almost excuses Alex for being so enchanted. But she’s just as quick to dispel anyone’s entitlement, Alex included.

What Raiff captures so well, both in the quiet moments between Alex and Maggie but especially in the spaces where the two are apart, is all the hope and anxiety bound up in relationships—and how much possibility they can contain if you open yourself up to it.