The Stream: Hits the conventional coming-of-age beats
The Big Screen: Has poignant moments that cut right to the heart
The Final Bill: A funny and emotional film that gets bogged down by some predictable plot points– Trip Fontaine
Director: Cooper Raiff
Writers: Cooper Raiff
Stars: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Leslie Mann
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Production Companies: Picturestart, Endeavor Content, TeaTime Pictures
Platform: In theaters and Apple TV+ released on June 17, 2022
Streamers, here’s another film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival to check out. Cha Cha Real Smooth was an audience favorite at the festival, and then it was snapped up by Apple TV+. Now, this indie, coming-of-age comedy/drama has been released on the streaming service and in limited theaters. You know there is a particular essence that is conjured when you think of a Sundance movie, and Cha Cha Real Smooth may fit squarely within that class of film. Here’s whether this film danced its way into my heart.
Cooper Raiff is the 25-year-old director, writer and star of Cha Cha Real Smooth. Here, Raiff has made a movie about that uneasy time between college and “the rest of your life.” Andrew (Raiff) has just graduated from Tulane University, but he’s not sure what he’s going to do with his life. He moves back home, living with his mother, stepdad and 13-year-old brother, David. He’s working at a terrible fast food place in a mall and wallowing as his college girlfriend has moved on to better things in Europe. Accompanying David to a bar mitzvah, Andrew’s talent for getting parties started turns into a business opportunity and he meets an intriguing mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter, Lola, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Confused 20-something hijinks ensue.
It is not surprising that Cha Cha Real Smooth was a popular offering at the Sundance Film Festival. It has an emotional core with humor and can be charming as well. It can also be very sweet – too sweet really. Raiff, as Andrew, has such a pleading stare that begs the audience to be on his side. He is not a particularly interesting character though and his struggle, while touching, is kind of cliched. What’s most endearing about Andrew is how emotional he is. He loves his brother and their close bond is very clear. He also cries easily and a lot. Some may find that annoying, but a male character so unabashedly emotional is unique. I’ll also give a shout out to Dakota Johnson. She’s really good as Domino. She’s going through growing pains as well, and Johnson is mercurial and mysterious enough to be interesting with each turn of her character. It’s easy to see why Andrew would be attracted to her.
Now, my reservations about Cha Cha Real Smooth are that this movie has been made so many times before. Yes, the struggles in 2022 of new college graduates are specific to this time, but the emotion of the moment is still the same. Raiff doesn’t do anything new with that theme. There are other things about family and acceptance and loss that are prevalent and feel fresh, but they are also bogged down by the cliche of the overarching plot. Despite that, the humor and poignancy throughout the movie are enough to make it tolerable for its modest runtime.
Look, Cha Cha Real Smooth is a sweet distraction for 90 minutes or so. It has some charm and really attempts to hit you right in the heart. Yes, the coming-of-age story is cliched, but Raiff adds other elements to give the story a little spice. Dakota Johnson is particularly good in a surprising role. I’d say get a bowl of popcorn and give Cha Cha Real Smooth a left stomp and a crisscross. Criss Cross. Then, smooth it out.