Cooper Raiff Is Bringing Male Tears to Movies with 'Cha Cha Real Smooth'

The writer-director-star of the new film debuting on Apple TV+ didn't want to cast himself.

Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Crying comes “naturally” to Cooper Raiff, the writer, director, and star of the new film Cha Cha Real Smooth, which is debuting on Apple TV+ after premiering at Sundance. In both his latest and his debut, a college-set rom-com called Shithouse, Raiff’s characters break down in sobs. It feels unusual to see a young male protagonist crying in this way-not because “my boy died,” as Raiff suggests during our interview at the end of a long press day-but just because life is hard sometimes.

“As I’m writing, I usually just try to follow my feelings,” Raiff says. “So I’ll start to write, ‘Oh, he’s getting emotional.’ And I think that’s part of it. But, no, I think I just write what I know. I cry a lot.”

Shithouse, which Raiff dropped out of Occidental College to complete, premiered at the online 2020 version of SXSW shortly after the onset of COVID-19. But even though the movie about a freshman finding his footing didn’t get the celebration it might have received if there wasn’t a pandemic changing plans, the word “wunderkind” started to be thrown around.

Cha Cha Real Smooth feels like an expansion of ideas Raiff explored in Shithouse. This time he plays Andrew, a 22-year-old recent grad who stumbles into a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party starter gig when he accompanies his younger brother to a soiree. As he pumps up the crowd at local Jewish coming-of-age celebrations, he repeatedly encounters a young mother named Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). It’s the story of a fundamentally nice guy trying to figure out what adulthood entails.

Raiff emphatically did not want to star in Cha Cha, but Johnson and her producing partner Ro Donnelly convinced him. “I didn’t write it for myself, but everyone, just Ro and Dakota both were just like, ‘You wrote it for yourself,’ he explains. “I’m like, ‘No, I just am a bad writer and wrote this 22-year-old and I happened to be the same age.'”

Apple TV_
Apple TV_
Apple TV_

When Raiff was approached about making another film post-Shithouse, he had a TV show in mind. But the offer was to make another movie, so he returned to an idea he’d been tossing around since his own college years based on the experiences of his mother and sister, who, like Lola, is disabled.

“A lot of people were like, ‘What movie do you want to make next?’ And I didn’t really have any ideas, but I was just thinking about what’s the most personal thing that I would want to make a movie about,” he says. “I would tell them about this character named Domino and this character named Lola, and they were like, ‘That’s not a movie, it’s a relationship.'” He realized he needed to add himself back into the equation, “I was thinking also, I can’t make a movie about Domino. I can make a movie through the lens of a dumbass 22-year-old that gets at something.”

Landing on the Bar Mitzvah framework unlocked something else for Raiff, who is not Jewish but grew up in a heavily Jewish community in Dallas. He saw these two broken families-Andrew’s and Domino’s-projected against a tradition that is rooted in family, and a career for Andrew that would highlight his own failings. “I figured out the fable,” he says. “A person who is really good at starting other people’s parties but just doesn’t know where to start when starting his own.”

Raiff’s movies cast him as an agreeable everyman, but an assertiveness comes out when he discusses navigating the business of filmmaking. After his next feature, The Trashers, which he will not star in, he wants to make a TV show he had previously set up at a network, but as an independent production. “I realized how long it takes to get TV made, and I realized that it’s hard to deal with networks,” he says. “And I ended up actually taking the idea back and my goal is to make it next year after Trashers by myself.”

Similarly, Raiff was frustrated by the corporate nervousness he encountered around portraying a character with autism and casting an autistic actress. “Financiers really wanted us to have consultants,” he says. “We had this place called RespectAbility, they’re great to work with. I think they’re smart, and I loved working with them. But, when they first brought that idea, I was like, ‘Fuck no, that’s not how I make movies.’ There’s no part of me that is in any way worried about how we’re going to go about this. I know intimately how to be respectful.”

He knew immediately Burghardt was right for the role when he saw her audition tape where she read opposite her mother. Even though she didn’t match the character as written, he decided to make sure the character fit her. “I was crying on the phone, ‘It’s going to be her. I don’t want a single argument with anyone. It’s going to be her, and I’m going to figure it out, and we’re going to work to make it her because she is the heart of the movie.'” As he said: The tears come naturally.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.