26 September 2023

Cha Cha Real Smooth

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Writer/director: Cooper Raiff, Apple TV+.

As gratifying as it is amusing, Cha Cha Real Smooth creates, well, all the right moves. It isn’t trying to be trendy, but that’s part of the abundant appeal of this dramedy.

It’s written, directed, produced and stars 25-year-old Cooper Raiff, who plays a Tulane University graduate named Andrew, unsure about what to do next. So, he moves back home with his impressionable younger brother (Evan Assante), bipolar mother (Leslie Mann) and mum’s annoying partner (Brad Garrett).

While accompanying his brother to a bar mitzvah, Andrew impresses several other parents with his unique ability to get people moving on the dance floor — and before long, he’s been recruited to be the official ‘party-starter’ at a whole host of local bar mitzvahs.

Andrew starts making money while also striking a relationship with a loving but dejected young mother, Domino (portrayed by Dakota Johnson, who also produced the film). He meets Domino’s autistic daughter, Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt), who is the heart of the movie. He manages to take her to the dance floor, surprising Domino.

Raiff’s first film, Shithouse, was about a college freshman and in Cha Cha Real Smooth we follow someone who is freshly graduated with no after-university plans. As Raiff puts it: one character can be seen to be introverted and the other extroverted, but they both are dealing with the fact that they don’t really know how to be on their own. They struggle with knowing who they are separate from other people. Alex [also played by Raiff] and Andrew, they’ve both got some codependent traits. And some mommy issues!

It feels like sometimes Raiff is trying to pack a few too many messages, but his films capture the precarious nature of youth in a way that feels helpless and understandable. The characters are intricate with subtle differences. Another cyclical theme is the complicated relationships that exist between mothers and sons.

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