Cooper Raiff is always chasing a feeling. "I'm after a very specific, good feeling," says the writer-director and star on what defines a Cooper Raiff film. "I'm always after this feeling of joy, really."
Raiff broke out with Shithouse, a heart-on-its-sleeve dramedy about college life that won the Grand Jury Prize at South by Southwest. His latest is Cha Cha Real Smooth, about a bar/bat mitzvah party starter who comes of age again when he forms an unlikely friendship with a young mother (played by Dakota Johnson). That movie had its premiere at year's Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.
MORE: Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff Come of Age (Again) in 'Cha Cha Real Smooth' Trailer
"With Cha Cha, it's kind of a joyful sadness. And with the next thing I'm doing, it's also a joyful sadness," he laughs. "So, maybe joyful sadness? The way to get there can be [very different]. The next movie I'm making" — The Trashers starring David Harbour — "is a very violent, aggressive movie, but it's one where you're going to be gritting your teeth and, like, fist-bumping for 100 minutes. It's a different kind of specific, good feeling, but it's a specific, good feeling nonetheless."
Below, Raiff shares with A.frame five movies that have inspired his filmmaking, as well as the wisdom he took from filmmakers like Ryan Coogler, Sofia Coppola and Cameron Crowe.
Written and Directed by: Ryan Coogler
I had the... just the most visceral reaction to that movie. I'm an idiot, but I was very young and I went to go see Fruitvale Station in the movie theater and didn't know what was going to happen. And I had no idea the most traumatic event was going to happen. So, I watched this movie that was I was so invested in, because it was such a well-told story about this guy's day and his relationships with these women in his life, and then, the third act happens. I was, like, wailing out loud. I couldn't be quiet. It just really, really, really obliterated me. It was such an intense pain watching that movie, and I've never felt closer to the human conditions than watching that movie.
It just profoundly affected me in the way that I just knew how powerful movies were. And I thought about who made it and why he made it in this way. And I went and watched Locks, the first short film that Ryan Coogler made, and I read about him going to USC, and I read about how he had this teacher who read something he wrote and told him that he was a storyteller. I just kind of really got obsessed with Ryan Coogler. So, leaving that theater, I was so shaken and really could not stop thinking about it for the next really six months, about how important movies are and how movies can really change lives.
Written and Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite filmmakers, and Almost Famous is probably the movie I've re-watched the most out of any movie ever. There's so many things that I love about it, but the thing I love most is how it stays so meaningful the whole way through. It really knows what it's trying to say and it keeps us in the perspective of this young boy who is kind of removed from knowing about the experiences of these people he's on the road with. Like, we don't get to know Penny Lane very well, but we do get to see her very well through his eyes.
I just love every single person in that movie, and I feel so much for everyone. I think it's a total feat to have so many characters in a movie that are just, like, utterly adored. And I use a lot of shots from that movie and when I'm telling people how I want to make mine. With Cha Cha, the look book had a bunch of Almost Famous stills in it. But the feelings that he gets at are really lovely and don't feel teed up. It always feels so organic with him, but well executed. Cameron Crowe really captures pure love so well, and it really leaves me with such a good feeling every time.
Written and Directed by: Sofia Coppola
When I saw the elliptical scene in that movie, where Bill Murray is going and he kind of gets stuck and he yells, "Help," I paused that and re-watched it. And then, I paused it and was like, "Oh, I really want to be a writer." Every Sofia Coppola movie has something so specific to say, and the way that she goes about saying it with visuals — but also with really, really funny scenes and really sparse dialogue — is amazing to me. She's really so focused, but also just so smart and funny.
Really, that movie's so funny. And it's not because of Bill Murray. It's because the scenes are so funny. There's that story that she was only going to do the movie if Bill Murray would do it, and I think it's just because she knew how funny her script was. I just love that movie, and I have a poster in my bedroom of Bill Murray's quote: "The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you."
Written and Directed by: David O. Russell
That might be my favorite movie of all time. I definitely have watched Almost Famous more, but Silver Linings Playbook is the most watchable movie. It makes me feel so many feelings. [I watch it] every time I need to feel pure elation and ecstasy, and it makes me cry so hard, and it is the most romantic movie ever. And I love David O. Russell. I always wanted to emulate his filmmaking, because, with that movie in particular, I think he was so wildly inspired by that story and those characters. And I really felt it.
I just adore how it felt like that movie just had nothing to lose. You can write so many essays about that movie and none of those essays would capture any sort of ounce of the feeling that you get watching it. And it's not necessarily the greatest depiction of two bipolar people, and I know a few bipolar people who are nothing like those two people — maybe there are people who are just like that — but it really is everything I love about movies. It's really so inspired by life and by people and what they're capable of. And also [it's] just so romantic. I just love that movie with all heart. Like, directly from the heart.
Written and Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda
I saw that movie in a theater — and I've never done this before — but I watched it, and then, I sat there for the whole credits and I was like, "I need to see that again." It made me want to go back to see all the things that I didn't see right away. It felt so immediate. The stakes were so high that I had to see it again just then, because I think I thought a story was going in one way, and then, it went entirely a different way.
It's kind of the inverse of Silver Linings Playbook in a lot of ways. It's so not sentimental. It's so truthful the whole way through. And it's not manipulative in any way. Those characters are presented as like, "Here are these people and here is the story." And the direction that movie goes, it's so surprising. Sometimes I want movies to tell me how to feel, but that movie does not in any way, so that impacted me in a lot of ways. But I think the main thing is just loving your characters can be simply allowing them all of the space in the world to be interpreted, however they will. That's what I love about that movie and about that filmmaker.