Directed by: Cooper Raif

Written by: Cooper Raif

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Raúl Castillo, Odeya Rush, Evan Assante

Rating: [4/5]

Having everything figured out in our 20s would be nice but certainly does not signify the norm in how humans develop. Heck, most people don’t complete their brain development until the midway point of their 20s. However, graduating college comes with a specific expectation, which gets explored in Cha Cha Real Smooth as it navigates the ails of the protagonist while also being injected with an incredible amount of sweetness throughout. 

Freshly out of college but with no real career prospects to gravitate toward Andrew (Cooper Raiff) has moved back home. Aimless in his search for what lies next for him, he begins a flirtatious entanglement with a mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson) as they meet during a bar mitzvah. 

In a world where comparison rules all some might argue that the track Andrew goes on in this feature where instead of getting an adult job right out of college he decides to get a gig as a party starter for bar mitzvahs would indicate some deficiency. Something where he needs to get a real job, but the exploration occurring in Cha Cha Real Smooth simply goes to the ideal of being nice to others and presenting grace even when it does not get reciprocated. This level of sweetness ultimately makes Andrew stand out amongst the other characters in the story as he finds himself in the weird middle. 

Most of the scenes this film presents shows Andrew right in the middle and in the wrong place age-wise. The film starts with him professing his love to a much older woman as a 12-year-old, which obviously did not go the way he expected. Fast forward to the present and much of the narrative shows him in environments where the majority are teenage kids and their parents as he attends these bar mitzvahs. He cannot fully find himself in either group with good reason. He’s too mature in one and too immature for the other. This leaves him at an impasse in what he will do in his life and who he can build a meaningful connection with. 

This in-between leads him towards Domino, who finds herself outside of the parents’ circle for reasons initially unknown. Along with her having an autistic daughter who does not want to interact with the other kids her age, they form a bond with Andrew that is quite beautiful. It ultimately defines what makes Andrew such a great character to follow. Yes, he does not have everything figured out in life and what he wants to commit to doing, but at the very least he uses his compassion to connect with others, which makes his gig as a party starter great for him. He makes it easy for kids to feel comfortable to get up and dance during the bar mitzvahs even if they feel awkward. He cuts through the teenage angst of showing any vulnerability in front of peers and allows them just to let go and have fun. He can do this for others but still finds himself at this personal impasse. 

Andrew’s relationship with other characters demonstrates the best this film has to offer and how each one of them expounds their knowledge to him either through experience or conversation. Sure he’ll butt heads with his stepdad, portrayed by the always-great Brad Garrett, but the friction there comes from a place of care of him wanting the best for Andrew. Even the rough edges of this feature get smoothed out by the love emanating in this film at all times. Then you have his relationship with his younger brother, his mother, the peers his age, and then Domino. Andrew continually floats throughout these relationships as they continue to ferment, reach their boiling point, and then the all-important decision at the end gets made. 

All of this comes together through Cooper Raiff, who not only stars in the feature but also wrote and directed it. A brainchild of his and he shows the empathy possible for characters even when they do not know themselves fully. Some aspects of his direction are rough but the beauty of this feature comes from the writing and how he interweaves these characters with each other and the impact they can have on others. It demonstrates this sense of co-dependency that does not necessarily go away when you reach a certain age. People need to connect and sometimes you need someone like a party starter to bring it all together. Raiff, undoubtedly, has a bright future afraid of him with this being a second feature and I’m sure he will continue to impress as he progresses. 

Low stakes but full of love, Cha Cha Real Smooth presents a touching story that anyone can connect with. Raiff creates a special set of characters to demonstrate the feeling of connection individuals seek at any age. A film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and provides plenty of comedic moments but also lives with its characters in a meaningful way. The arc presented for Andrew shows he needs to find people that are his age no matter how much he connects with those younger and older than him. He manages to find that, in the end, but the journey there makes for such an enjoyable viewing experience.

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