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Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022) – Review: I Really Like Cooper Raiff Movies

June 17, 2022

Quick thoughts – Grade – B+ – Cha Cha Real Smooth is an earnest and sensitive film that proves Cooper Raiff is a filmmaker to watch. 

What’s great about Cha Cha Real Smooth and Sh*thouse is how writer/director Cooper Raiff is able to largely avoid “coming of age” or “feel good story” tropes by leaning into sharp observations (twentysomethings don’t have to fall into one stereotype) and sensitive moments  that audiences haven’t really seen before. His characters mostly defy convention and I really wish they’d have been around when I was in college (I had “sensitive” movies like Garden State and college movies like Old School and Van Wilder) because Raiff’s films don’t seem like the stock-shlock that Hollywood has thrown at audiences for years. It’s nice that Raiff swings for the fences with his emotions and despite a few negative reviews that use terms like “naracissitic nazal-gaving,” the majority of critics appreciate his brand of optimisim and messiness. Since it’s only his second feature-length production it’s not surprising that there are big speeches, tiny speeches, and emotional speeches that take up a decent amount of the running time. However, unlike other first/second time writer/directors, these speeches don’t feel overly-written or inorganic. There’s no “life is like a necktie that wraps itself around my neck” speeches (Best example I could think of) that feel overly-clever or too pleased with themselves.

Cha Cha Real Smooth revolves around Andrew (Raiff) a recent college graduate who moves home to New Jersey to figure out his next step in life. His main goal is to move to Barcelona to be with his Fullbright scholar girlfriend, but when she starts dating someone else he’s forced to pivot to something new that doesn’t involve living with his mom (Leslie Mann), younger brother (Evan Assante) and Greg (Brad Garrett), his stepdad who seems totally fine, but is wildly loathed. His career prospects perk up when he finds himself at a bat/bar mitzvah with an empty dancefloor due to lack of proper party motivation.  After he helps kick off the festivities by getting everyone dancing, he’s flooded with offers to be a party-starter for upcoming bar/bat mitzvahs. It’s during these parties that he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her teenage daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), and the three quickly form a friendship that gets messy as Andrew begins babysitting Lola and becoming too close to the engaged Domino. 

I really don’t want to give away the rest of the plot because it veers into unexpected territory that shouldn’t be spoiled. Just know that Raif, Mann, Johnson, Assante, Garrett and Burghardt are all solid and they’re each given several moments to shine. The highlight of the film is the performance from Vanessa Burghardt, an autistic actor who worked with Raif to develop the role and make her into a very likable character with solid comic timing. I really enjoyed watching Raiff and Burghardt onscreen together because they become friends and equals who enjoy spending time with each other. Also, Dakota Johnson is excellent as always and she’s asked to do the majority of the emotional heavy-lifting by creating a character who is likable, damaged, mature, uncertain, and about 30 other adjectives. Raiff must’ve been stoked when Johnson signed on because she’s able to create a three-dimensional human who never feels like a character written by a love-lorn twentyseomthing. 

Final thoughts: Watch Sh*thouse and Cha Cha Real Smooth because Cooper Raiff is a most welcome voice in the industry right now.

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