The buzz of Cha Cha Real Smooth out of Sundance was off the charts. It was purchased by Apple TV for $15 million, fresh out of the Oscar win for CODA which they bought for a record $25 mil. When the trailer came out, it didn’t exactly scream ‘must-see’ for me the way CODA was, but I was drawn by Dakota Johnson‘s casting who’s been in more and more intriguing projects.
The movie is the brainchild of writer/director Cooper Raiff in his sophomore feature and he also stars as the protagonist. Fresh out of college, 22-year-old Andrew isn’t sure about what he wants to do. He works a dead-end job at Meat Sticks–which is such a terrible name for fast food place–yet he’s got a hidden talent as a party starter. Before watching this movie, I didn’t even realize that a bar mitzvah party starter is a real job. I mean, I get DJs and emcees at parties, but a party starter does exactly what its title says, which is to motivate the guests to dance and have a good time. The title refers to a dancefloor staple Cha Cha Slide. It’s during one of these bar mitzvah parties that Andrew first meets Domino and Lola, a young mother (Johnson), and her autistic daughter (Vanessa Burghardt).
Andrew is immediately taken by Domino and he immediately wins points given how he treats Lola. Domino offers Andrew $300 bucks if he could get Lola to dance and somehow he manages to do just that. I love that Andrew is genuine about wanting to befriend Lola, it isn’t just a ploy to get her mom’s attention. Andrew definitely has a knack for kids, and his relationship with his younger brother David (Evan Assante) who clearly looks up to him is so endearing.
Ever since Andrew was a young boy, he’s had a certain unaffected, innocent way of looking at the world. The movie opens in a flashback of him as a little boy admitting he has a crush on his grade teacher. Raiff certainly wears his sentimental heart on his sleeve and so does his character. In college, he pines for his college-mate Maya who ends up moving away to Barcelona. Once he meets Domino, he soon falls her despite a rather traumatizing incident he encounters in the party’s bathroom.
Billed as a coming-of-age movie, the movie is mostly about Andrew’s growing process as he navigates his career and romantic life. I saw in one of his interviews that Raiff wrote this story while he was in college, hence Andrew’s journey feels personal. His writing is mostly light and upbeat, and the pacing is pretty sprightly which is to be commended as pacing is a tricky one even for veteran filmmakers. Andrew is a guy who feels everything and he’s not afraid to show it, which I find quite refreshing as it bucks the trend of the overly macho, emotionally-distant romantic male lead. The tentative relationship he develops with Domino is wonderfully-crafted and surprisingly grounded. It’s also refreshing that the film doesn’t demonize the romantic rival, even though Domino’s relationship with her fiancé Joseph (Raúl Castillo) could be a bit less opaque.
It’s good for diverse representation as Burghardt is autistic in real life and I appreciate that the filmmaker gives her character a good arc. This isn’t the first time Dakota stars in a film with progressive representation as she stars with an actor with Down syndrome The Peanut Butter Falcon. Similar to that movie, Lola’s autism is a major plot in the film that feels organic to the characters’ journey overall. Props for casting a Latin actor in a role of a highly-educated, successful attorney instead of the stereotypical Hispanic/Latino characters holding blue-collar jobs. Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett have a small but memorable role as Andrew’s mom and stepdad, respectively. Mann is more watchable here than in the last movie I saw her in, Netflix’s atrocious The Bubble.
There are a lot of positives about this movie, though at times Andrew’s people-pleaser personality might rub some people the wrong way. As Raiff is on screen pretty much 90% of the time, it really relies on his own personal charm to keep the movie engaging. I think he’s likable enough, but at times I wish there were scenes of Domino as she’s so enigmatic and mysterious. She definitely elevates the film as someone more interesting than the protagonist. The scene between Domino and Andrew in the car is the most emotional moment of the film and perhaps the only time it shows Raiff’s dramatic chops.
Overall I’m impressed by Raiff’s work here despite some issues I have with the movie. At only 25, getting this level of success as a writer/director/star is pretty astonishing. I don’t think this one is worth the hype compared to CODA in terms of its writing however, while it’s pretty enjoyable, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression on me. That said, it’s well worth a watch and I’m curious what Raiff will do next.
What did you think of Cha Cha Real Smooth?
6 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)”
I might check this out as I have heard good things about and happy to see Dakota Johnson doing something interesting as she did talk about her experience in those Fifty Shades movies and some of it was not really good because of its author.
I’ve never seen any of the Fifty Shades movies but I’ve been impressed w/ Dakota in a few things. She’s definitely a charismatic actress and quite versatile as well.
Agreed with you, I have to watch this one
Yes you should! Hope you enjoy it!
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