"Cha Cha Real Smooth" was one of the breakout hits from this year's Sundance Film Festival, and it lands on Apple TV+ today (as well as a limited theatrical run). It's not hard to see why: There seems to be some real, polished talent at work here from star, writer and director - 24-year-old Cooper Raiff - but it's a hard movie to love due to the unlikability of one major character.
Andrew (Raiff) is a charming but under-achieving young man who is still in search of himself. He falls in love fast and easily, and like many in their early 20s, has a lot to learn. Working at a fast food joint and living at home with his mom (Leslie Mann), her crotchety husband, Greg (Brad Garrett) and Andrew's younger bro, David (Evan Assante), is not exactly where he saw himself at this stage in his life. But when he takes a gig as a Bar Mitzvah "party-starter," he meets a girl that will inevitably change his life.
That woman is Domino (Dakota Johnson), who is the mother of an autistic teenage girl, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Lola and Domino show up at one such Bar Mitzvah and Andrew charms the socks off of them. To Domino, she is enchanted by how this young man can relate and inspire her daughter...he also represents for her a different path she might have taken had she not had a daughter at such a young age. For Andrew...heck, it's Dakota Johnson! What's not to like?
There is a lot to like about "Cha Cha Real Smooth," from the performances, to the realistic and easy feel of the dialogue. The story also doesn't go in the directions you might think. We discover Domino is married, a wrench in Andrew's plans one might think. Through his somewhat forbidden relationship with Domino, Andrew discovers a lot about himself, and the "happy ending" comes not from whom Andrew ends up with, but the growth his character shows throughout the film.
Some Minor Spoilers To Follow:
The real problem is that Domino is a real hard person to care about. Dakota Johnson is great in the role, but isn't quite able to overcome how despicable Domino is on the page, when you think about it. What is this woman doing toying around with this impressionable young man? She's like a vampire who sucks Andrew dry, discarding him after he's outlived his usefulness in her life. I don't think she's supposed to come across like this, but perhaps I'm wrong. When her relationship with Andrew is the center of the film, it begins to make you dislike the movie itself, as you just wish that Andrew would open his eyes to the other woman in his life, his "friend with benefits," Macy (Odeya Rush).
Cooper Raiff is a stand-out, at such a young age, but even as a triple-threat actor-writer-director, his real skill here seems to be his screen-writing. That's not to say he isn't a good actor or director, he shows that he is. But others should take note of his natural dialogue and how words can breathe life into otherwise two-dimensional characters.
"Cha Cha Real Smooth" is a good time despite its stumbles, and a dance worth taking.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes.
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Evan Assante, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Burghardt.
Written and Directed by Cooper Raiff ("Shithouse," "Madeline & Cooper").
"Cha Cha Real Smooth" is on Apple TV+ as of Friday, June 17th, 2022.
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