The greatest of films mirror life. They capture the events and realties of the world, but also the emotional ride that is existence. A perfect movie, like a full life, will make you experience the highest of highs, but the crushing depths of lows.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is this kind of movie. It’s hard to remember a Sundance movie that made me feel so much in such a short time. I laughed, I cried, I blushed, I hurt. As I write this now I write it with a smile on my face because I was able to experience what Cooper Raiff has brought to Sundance in 2022.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is the second feature film from the director. Raiff wrote, directed and stars in this film and is equally incredibly talented in all three of those fields. He also stars alongside Dakota Johnson, who gives the best performance of her career.
Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college graduate who returns home to begin his post-grad life. With hopes of a great career he finds himself working at a fast food restaurant in his hometown mall. One night, while chaperoning his younger brother to a bar-mitzvah, he surveys the lack of party and decides to do something about it. This is where he, and the local Jewish mothers, all discover his incredible talent of bringing the best out of everyone as the life of the party. Andrew through impassioned surveys, dance moves, and persuasion gets every Jewish parent and child on the dance floor except one, Domino (Johnson) and Lola (Vanessa Burghardt.) Andrew approaches their table and discovers Domino is a very young mother with an autistic daughter, who would rather not dance. After a few discussions and a healthy wager, Andrews convinces Lola to join the party on the dance floor and the party reaches its peak. Andrew becomes the hit of the party and his successful results lead him to being a new part-time Bar-Mitzvah DJ.
At Andrew’s next gig he reunites with Domino but this time in a very difficult moment for her. He comes to her rescue and what unveils is one of the first pitch-perfect moments between the two leads of this film.
As with many of my reviews I try to leave the events and twists of the films as vague as possible. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a film that really takes on so much and somehow seems to handle every delicate theme perfectly.
It may be one of the sweetest movies I have ever seen. Andrew is the embodiment of youth and the unlimited potential it brings. His bright optimistic eyes look on to every single person in this film with so much love and desire to help from Domino, to Lola, and to his younger brother (Evan Assante) You immediately fall in love with Andrew and you just want things to work out for the kid.
He has a very complicated relationship with his Mother, played by the always wonderful Leslie Mann, and a hilarious rivalry with his stepdad played by Brad Garrett. Every relationship in this film is handled with such grace and detail. Raiff writes dialogue that is both funny, but also realistic. Every single character is fleshed out, complex and relatable. The film is so rich in its relationships and how they are drawn to Andrew. Nothing seems excessive and every interaction is enjoyable.
But it is the relationship between Andrew, Domino, and Lola that give this film incredible heart. The tension between Andrew and Domino on screen is exhilarating to watch. It keeps the audience at the edge of their seats as they get deeper and deeper into knowing each other and understand who the other person is and what they believe they want. But it is the relationship between Andrew and Lola that made my heart grow about 3 times its size during this film. Not only is it great to see the inclusion of a character with autism, but she as much as anyone drives the film. The care and grace that Andrew has around her is heartwarming. Every scene they share together is a joy.
The entire run time of the film I was smiling, laughing, or on the verge of shedding a tear. Raiff balances so many relatable struggles and packages it in a sweet, heartfelt gut punch. Of course there are going to be critics who accuse this of being a cliché indie crowd pleaser, but Cha Cha Real Smooth hits on a different level.
Raiff floored me with his 2020 debut Sh*thouse by telling a small story with incredible acting and a moving script. He takes everything he did well in that film and elevates it to another level.
At 25, he is clearly one of the most promising and talented young filmmakers of his generation. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a beautiful, touching, unforgettable movie that will be a breakout hit of 2022.