CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Raúl Castillo, and Odeya Rush
Director: Cooper Raiff
Cooper Raiff’s ambition as a writer, director, and actor is breathtaking, and he is forging his own path as a filmmaker by focusing more on characters and their growth as people first and foremost. Cha Cha Real Smooth is “Exhibit A” by being more than a love story, and its themes go so much further. It’s charming, heart-warming, and grounded. The cast’s chemistry feels so authentic and real that I fell in love with these characters to the point that I didn’t want to leave them when the film was over. It proves Raiff is an exciting young filmmaker to be on the lookout for.
Writer, director, and lead Cooper Raiff bodied everything about Cha Cha Real Smooth. His portrayal of Andrew is fully authentic, and his palpable chemistry with everyone is a testament to his direction. Whether sparks fly with Dakota Johnson (Domino), compassion brims with Vanessa Burghardt (Lola), or love overflows with his family (Evan Assante, Leslie Mann, and Brad Garrett), there isn’t one unfulfilled moment. While some scenes feel cut off due to budgetary restrictions, the film’s honest writing says the things in life we try to hide out of fear and elevates it to being one of this year’s most satisfying movies.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is a film that delivers a wonderfully authentic portrayal of autism through solid performances across the board. It also features a sweet, relatable story, regardless of faith. So, why didn’t I love it? I liked it, sure, but something kept it from reaching that next tier for me. It just felt like a lot of “good,” but not a lot of “great.” Based on the love it’s been getting both critically and by my peers, I’m clearly in the minority, but this one just didn’t do enough to warrant that praise from me.
The sophomore effort of director Cooper Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth, finds its star in even finer form as a filmmaker. The Shithouse helmer possesses the uncanny ability to mimic the softer sides of Richard Linklater without losing his own voice in the process, navigating conflicts with permeating empathy and enveloping warmth. Whereas his previous film felt more like a chapter than a full story, Cha Cha takes that same formula and stretches it to its logical endpoints without outright villainizing anyone. Raiff and co-star Dakota Johnson have genuine chemistry, and their individual connections with scene-stealer Vanessa Burghardt are palpable.
Cha Cha Real Smooth played with all of my feels. I watched this film soon after my 21st birthday, and as a result, it couldn’t have hit closer to home. The anxiety and fear that the lead character feels in this era of his life is accurately represented, but never in a purely negative manner. In fact, director/writer Cooper Raiff portrays these feelings honestly and in a light and hopeful way. The movie is extremely funny, even as it goes into serious territories, and I appreciated the film for that. This is a tender film that I can see myself watching again and again.