Cha Cha Real Smooth
More tender and straight-edged than its title would suggest, Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth further justifies his “one-to-watch” status, as the young writer/director delivers a mature and quietly playful study of the aimlessness and disillusion of early 20s life.
Raiff gives a star turn as Andrew, a 22-year-old graduate whose pending instability is underpinned by his college girlfriend’s imminent relocation to Barcelona. Without the financial ability to follow her, Andrew is stuck living with his mother (Leslie Mann) and “stepdad Greg” (Brad Garrett) while sleeping in the same room as his younger brother (Evan Assante) and working in a dead-end job. While attending a bat mitzvah with his brother, however, Andrew discovers his niche via his natural charisma as a party starter, a skill which he utilises to charm Domino (Dakota Johson) by encouraging her autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), onto the dancefloor, an act which, by Domino’s reaction, is almost unprecedented.
After assisting her through a medical situation with cool discretion, Andrew and the unhappily engaged Domino begin a loosely defined, emotionally intimate relationship, Andrew eventually being hired as Lola’s babysitter. His selfless and disarming charisma makes Lola unusually comfortable in his presence, although she does admit to him that she can find their time together “emotionally and physically draining”. “How can I help that?” Andrew asks, Lola’s candid response being, “you’re probably not going to be able to”. The depiction of a teenager on the spectrum, portrayed by a young neurodivergent actress, whose character is a key element to the film’s emotional truth, is handled refreshingly and responsibly, a cool swig of mouthwash after the sour taste left by Sia’s grossly miscalculated Music.
But this is a film where every central character is written from a place of goodwill. Even initially untrustworthy figures, such as stepdad Greg and Domino’s fiancé, Joseph (Raúl Castillo), who at first appear to represent all that is stagnant and backwards in the brave new world of a fresh college graduate, are just people trying to do their best by the ones they love. Perhaps, to some, this may ring as untrue and sugar-coated, but the compassion in Raiff’s film is infectious. The key to avoiding a tonally schmaltzy experience, however, lies almost entirely with Raiff’s interpretation of Andrew, capturing the seductive allure of his character while seamlessly dipping into moments of vulnerability (he can go from life of the party to a hunched, wide-eyed little boy in mere moments) which illuminate his flaws (drinking on the job, double standards in his jealousy).
Cha Cha Real Smooth may not be executed with the cinematic dynamism and zest suggested by the first half of its title, but Raiff’s performance goes a long way in compensation, while the fully rounded portrait of one of the most confusing periods in one’s life is “real smooth” indeed.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is released on Apple TV+ on 17th June 2022.
Watch the trailer for Cha Cha Real Smooth here: