“I just really love you guys.”
For anyone who’s ever been to a wedding or dance in their entire lifetime, more than likely you’ve seen people get on the dance floor and dance the “Cha Cha Slide.” It’s rather funny as people who are nicely dressed will often, go out, stomp their feet, and cross their legs at the request of the person in the song. In the long run, it’s all good fun. This song is where we’ll find the lyrics “cha cha real smooth,” the exact title of our film, as people “cha cha” in their small area of the dance floor. This title most likely comes from the fact that the main character in the film plays it cool, all while having his life not quite figured out.
Cha Cha Real Smooth introduces us to Andrew (Cooper Raiff) who, like most college students, finds himself a little lost after graduating. He’s currently crashing back with his family, or should I say, at his step-father Greg’s (Brad Garrett) house, along with his Mom (Leslie Mann), and brother, David (Evan Assante). His plans are to raise enough money from selling corndogs at the mall food court, and then head to Barcelona to be with the girlfriend that basically broke-up with him. The new living situation isn’t ideal. To put it nicely, Andrew and Greg don’t exactly get along. Andrew, with his quick wit, often sends funny zingers in Greg’s direction, which leads his Mom to sternly tell him to stop.
One night, rather than stay-in with the boring adults, Andrew chaperones David to a bat mitzvah. With unyielding energy, Andrew gets the party going for all the young kids, but two people catch his eye: a girl with autism, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), and her mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson). They sit at a table to themselves as the young girl plays with a large Rubik’s Cube. Lola doesn’t dance, and Domino obliges her daughter’s wishes. But later in the night, Andrew bets Domino $1,000 that he will get Lola to dance, and she eventually steps foot onto the dance floor. Domino is amazed, and is immensely thankful for his encouragement. After that night he is hired as a party planner/host for the community and, more importantly a deep friendship is born between him and Domino.
Andrew is just plain sweet. He’s immediately taken with Domino and she with him. Each of them have their own issues that need dealing with, as does every character. They’re not perfect, but they look beyond the imperfections, and see only each other. Domino fights with her instincts of wanting to pursue their relationship to something further as she knows that her fiancé, Joseph (Raúl Castillo), is honestly the best thing, but it terrifies her.
Raiff who directs, writes, and acts in the film, keeps getting better with each of his projects. Not only is he able to create something that is entertaining, but he blends real-life complexities within it. Films often are too dark or overly silly, when it comes to this subject matter, but Raiff shows us that yes, there are moments in life that are crushing, but also moments that are so beautiful and funny, too. Cha Cha Real Smooth feels so organic, so real. The characters don’t feel made up. They feel 100 percent relatable. Raiff obviously steals the show, but his work with each of the characters is perfect, which I credit to his remarkable directing. Mann, for instance, is an absolute gem as Andrew’s Mom. She has those roles where she can come off a bit too much sometimes, but I loved her here. She is equal parts love, affection, and especially towards the end, comedy. And then there’s Johnson, who continues to blow me away with her performances. She embraces the good and the struggles of Domino, which makes her so captivating to watch.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is an outstanding film that is so impeccably sweet. When I say sweet, I don’t mean that eye-rolling cringy type. I could name some brands behind such culprits, but I’ll just say that their content is usually absorbed during the Christmas season. I viewed this as part of the films I saw at SXSW, but this was, hands down, my favorite. There’s an ultimate comfort I felt while watching Cha Cha Real Smooth. That some people play such an important role in the person you continue to grow into. Life is full of winding paths, and it may not always be easy. But if you have a friend, maybe everything will be okay.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Written and Directed by: Cooper Raiff
Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Raúl Castillo, and Leslie Mann
Cha Cha Real Smooth will be released on June 17th on Apple TV+.