Rarely does a movie sweep expectations in the way Cha Cha Real Smooth does. Going into this having not seen Cooper Raiff’s debut film, Shithouse, there weren’t many to be had. However, seeing the level of sincerity injected into this sophomore feature one sorely wishes they did. Not only does Cooper Raiff deliver an excellent lead performance, but this is also one of Dakota Johnson’s best performances to date. In a pantheon of films that are filled with pain and dread, it’s refreshing to have one that feels so lovable.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is about recent college graduate Andrew (Cooper Raiff) looking to establish himself. He’s currently working at a fast food restaurant, and spends his free time DJing bar mitzvahs. He’s awkwardly extroverted and spews his thoughts out loud, regardless if they’re appropriate or not. All the while, he becomes infatuated with a mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), whose autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) is the same age as his little brother.
There’s a feeling of tension looming over Andrew and Domino’s characters. Some scenes it’s so palpable you could cut it with a butter knife. It really comes down to how well Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson are. The dialogue feels natural and moves freely like the wind. You feel very much intertwined with these characters and any decision that is made is well calculated. That’s not even mentioning the other performances. Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett both had relatively small roles, but the material they were given was excellent.
What I respect most about this movie is it’s sense of identity. At no point did I feel like something else was going to swoop in and change the demeanor. In fact, there were scenes were I expected high tension situations to unfold, but it didn’t happen. Not to say that was a bad thing, but I was blindsided. Instead of choosing the easy option of driving tension through bad situations it uses the central friendship between Andrew and Domino to drive it. Which is odd (in a good way), we never felt like any scene was going to go out of control. And the scenes that did teeter the line of bad (in regards to circumstance) were not as bad as I anticipated. Cooper Raiff knew what he wanted out of this and he got exactly that.
However, one grievance with this movie is that it doesn’t seek to reinvent itself. And considering how minute of a grievance that is, it should further add how great of a film this is. Cha Cha Real Smooth doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel per se, but that seems to be by design. It’s very much the antithesis of movies such as The Graduate where the viewer is left feeling hopeful rather than dread. And while movies that are too “gushy” can be a little overbearing, there seemed to be a good struck in this film.
Overall, this is a beautiful film about a young man searching for himself. Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson give excellent performances, and everything about the feel of this movie is unmatched. There’s a certain warmth to film that gives a genuine sense of love. Whether you enjoyed this or not, hopefully you walked out with some form of happiness. I’m personally looking forward to whatever Cooper Raiff does next. One hop this time. – Jacob Mauceri
Cha Cha Real Smooth is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2022 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!