Writer/director Cooper Raiff (Shithouse) now has a theatrical release of his second feature-length movie, Cha Cha Real Smooth, after the festival circuit this year starting with Sundance where it won an Audience Award from the U.S. Dramatic Competition, followed by SXSW Film Festival in March, and several others leading up to the recent Tribeca Film Festival this month. The romantic dramedy stars Raiff as Andrew, a 22-year-old recent college graduate who is charming but lacks direction for his immediate future. He returns to live at home with his mama, Lisa (Leslie Mann) and his stepfather, Greg (Brad Garrett). Raiff’s script about an insecure and vulnerable young adult man in our present world is very engaging and gives the audience insight as to what many of our young men may be going through to achieve what is “expected” of them in many cases. Yes, Andrew finds himself attracted to an unavailable 30-something mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson). The audience may think they know what will likely happen between them, but Raifff’s script is so much more than what could have easily fallen into predictability and melodrama. His talent for writing very likeable and real characters in our society is what appeals to me and perhaps other audience members, including the relationship between Andrew and his younger brother, David (Evan Assante). The ending shot is beautiful.
Andrew is kind, caring and loves to make people happy and have a good time despite his personal troubles of having a fast-food job he doesn’t like and not having the relationship he once had with his college girlfriend Maya (Maya Pedroso Saquel). She’s off to study in Barcelona and hasn’t looked back. He tries to give his little brother helpful advice about girls when in fact he is not an expert, but he wants David to be confident and ready when the time comes. The families in the community attend each other’s bar mitzvah parties, so Andrew tags along to one party with his younger brother. He begins to encourage the younger set of boys all sitting at a table together to go hit the dancefloor, and before long Andrew has people of all ages grooving. It is when he approaches the mother (Johnson) and daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) that he enters an unexpected/unknown world. Lola is a neurotypical teen and he forges a relationship with her while Domino is watching. She sees Andrew’s interaction with Lola and the others who are now having a good time. Lola responds to him despite not knowing him and Domino feels completely comfortable around him, especially after he helps her through a personal crisis that same evening.
Andrew clearly has a close relationship with his mama Lisa (Mann) and the same cannot be said about his stepfather Brad. They obviously don’t have a bond, but the one with his mother has influenced him, as he is very empathetic as she but no doubt her bipolar disorder, the divorce from his father, etc. impacted him. He looks very comfortable spending time with the young teens his brother’s age and their moms do too, to the point of having him be the bar mitzvah “party starter” as a side job. This suits him fine as he can continue his visits with Domino and Lola, eventually becoming a sitter at home when Domino goes out and the lawyer she is engaged to, Joseph (Raúl Castillo), is often out of town on business. At first it is not clear why Domino is ambivalent about her engagement, but she keeps saying she wants to be with him. Andrew knows there are mixed messages and must work through all of that to realize what she is trying to say to him.
The onscreen chemistry between Raiff and Johnson is great, looks natural and yet inappropriate. Their scenes together in the different settings are very effective. Burghardt’s performance as Lola really is a scene-stealer and brings many bright spots to the film. Raúl Castillo shines in the role as a lawyer and he brings an intensity to the character when working with Domino through their relationship. His scene with Andrew toward the end has a good tension before he thanks him. Mann and Garrett are perfectly cast and provide a good performance.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is uplifting and sincere in its portrayal of all the characters who appear to be doing their best, handling life and all the challenges that come up in one way or another. It may be possible audience members may see their personal situations on screen or those of someone they know. The story certainly gives us reason to root for the entire ensemble’s characters.
This crowd-pleasing film is available in select theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ starting June 17. It is rated R and is 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Source: Apple TV+