Film Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, September 30th, 2022  

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Studio: Picturestart
Director: Cooper Raiff

Jan 31, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth is an easy-to-watch and beautifully simple film all about relationships, whether familial, romantic or platonic. Confident direction, a well-rounded script and fantastic performances are more than enough to suggest that Raiff’s second feature has avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

The film follows Andrew (Cooper Raiff), a recent college graduate who has no idea what he wants to do with his life. After his girlfriend moves to Barcelona to pursue her career, Andrew moves back to his New Jersey hometown, picking up a job at a local fast food place for cash and staying at his mother’s (Leslie Mann) and stepfather’s (Brad Garrett) house. With nothing to do, he decides to accompany his younger brother David (Even Assante) to a bar mitzvah. There, he quite literally assumes the role of the “life of the party,” using his charming and friendly demeanor to convince people to get on the dance-floor.

While recruiting people to dance, Andrew instantly connects with a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). After Andrew is hired as an official “party starter,” emceeing and deejaying bar mitzvahs all around town, he begins to cross paths with Domino and Lola more often, becoming closer with Domino in the process. What follows is a journey of self-discovery for both Andrew and Domino, learning about who they are as individuals and who they are together.

Cha Cha Real Smooth’s premise is extraordinarily simple. The film isn’t filled with convoluted, overdramatic plotlines, and the entire story is told solely through Andrew’s perspective. Raiff’s filmmaking is relatively restrained, avoidant of fast-paced editing and never focused on visual aesthetics. His primary goal is to explore the complexities of each character, as well as their individual struggles. As a result, the film operates as both a romance story and an intricate series of character studies.

Much of the film’s success is attributable to Raiff’s brilliantly penned script. Raiff never shies away from veering into uncomfortable, nail-biting situations, especially evident when Andrew and Domino interact with one another. Throughout the entire film, Raiff constantly places emphasis on the awkward silences in characters’ dialogues, highlighting and extending all of the moments where their conversation could go in any direction. Because of this, characters’ exchanges always feel realistic, natural and believable, often making the film play like more of a slice-of-life portrait rather than a narrative feature.

Cha Cha Real Smooth exemplifies Raiff’s ability to write emotionally rich and complex characters. The film is never focused on making its characters appear as strictly “likable” or “unlikable,” and no character in the story is reduced to simple stereotypes. Instead, each character is written like any other ordinary person, unsure of so many different things in life but willing to make mistakes and learn from them as they go along.

In the hands of another writer and director, characters like these could easily fall prey to a variety of shortcomings, coming off as too manufactured or overtly didactic. Here, though, each character’s individual quirks, awkward one-liners and expressive dialogue aren’t things that sinks the film down, but instead, make it more appreciable. As a result, each character’s complex personality is easy to understand and relate to, making their interactions with those around them comforting, charming and somewhat beautiful to watch unfold. (festival.sundance.org/program/#film-info/61ae08fd6c1de574e5c81045)

Author rating: 8/10

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