Cha Cha Real Smooth
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Andrew is an aimless college graduate who stumbles into an ongoing gig as a party host on the local bar mitzvah circuit. When he meets an enigmatic older woman at one of the parties he becomes infatuated with her, despite the fact that she’s engaged to someone else. He’s more than happy to be there for her and her autistic daughter, but the closer he gets, the greater the chances for heartbreak.
You may not have heard of Cooper Raiff before, but considering he wrote, directed, and stars in Cha Cha Real Smooth this could be his big break if it becomes a mainstream hit. His co-stars are much more recognizable, including Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, and Brad Garrett.
When you’ve had enough of big action spectacles, superhero sequels, and summer tentpole films it can be refreshing to switch it up with a sweet little film full of heartfelt emotion and unforgettable characters. Cha Cha Real Smooth is everything you want in an indie film—subtle yet captivating performances, a messy love story, naturalistic dialogue conveying piercing observations in the quietest ways, and a hipster-approved soundtrack underscoring the whole thing with a smooth, jangly vibe. This Sundance Film Festival darling follows a similar path to Apple TV+ as last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, CODA. It almost approaches the line between convention and cliché, but never quite crosses it thanks to writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s effortless charm.
From the first flashback scene, where we see a young Andrew fall for an older women at a party (a “motivational dancer,” like he’s destined to become one day) and get shot down in the nicest way possible, you feel for this kid who wears his heart on his sleeve. Even at 22 years old he’s earnest and kind, searching for somewhere to put all the love he has to give. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on himself or think much about his future. While this trait is commendable, it’s also his greatest weakness.
Andrew is planning to follow his college girlfriend to Barcelona, but then one night he takes his younger brother, David (Evan Assante), to a classmate’s bar mitzvah and two major things happen. First, seeing that no one is dancing or enjoying themselves, Andrew takes it upon himself to get the party started. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the other parents there, who want him to do the same for their kids’ upcoming parties. Second, he meets a woman named Domino (Dakota Johnson) who is accompanying her autistic daughter Lola (played by autistic actress Vanessa Burghardt in a standout performance). Andrew takes an immediate liking to both Domino and Lola, and they become the new focus of his emotional attention.
Domino has a fiancé but he’s out of town on business a lot so it’s easy for Andrew to put that inconvenient fact aside when it suits him, or see conflict where he wants to see it. He may be a nice guy, but he’s not without his flaws. He’s an extrovert, mainly because he’s not comfortable with himself, which sounds odd for such a navel-gazing film but there are plenty of other navels to gaze at here. “I actually enjoy being in an empty room,” Lola tells him one night when he’s babysitting. “Well I’m very jealous of that,” he tells her.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is for anyone who identifies with the ongoing struggle to figure out the big life stuff, for the late bloomers and over-thinkers, or idealists who fall too hard and yet manage to pick themselves back up and try again. There are times when it will make you feel good, but it’s not really a “feel-good” film. It’s far deeper and more interesting than that.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is a sweet, intimate antidote to all the noisy summer blockbusters out there. Filmmaker Cooper Raiff proves he’s someone to keep a close eye on.
If you’ve got a friend or a spouse whose a fan of indie movies, this is a great one to share with them.
Be aware of a content warning for instances of excessive alcohol consumption and miscarriage.