Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)
Directed by Cooper Raiff
Cooper Raiff’s breakout 2020 movie “Shithouse”—which the 25-year-old Dallas native wrote, directed, and starred in—began as a short film he posted unceremoniously on YouTube. “Shithouse” was a refreshingly real-life take on the classic college rom-com story. In my review of the film, I said I thought that Raiff should have a bright future, but followed it with an unhopeful “I know how Hollywood works.” Well, apparently, I don’t! Raiff’s follow-up, “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” shows that Raiff’s future might be brighter than ever. Raiff stars alongside Dakota Johnson in the comedy about a lazy college grad who falls for a young mom living in his hometown. AppleTV+ purchased the distribution rights after the film premiered at Sundance. Raiff even started his own production company this year, showing he has no plans of slowing down.
Raiff plays Andrew, who moves back in with his mom (Leslie Mann) and step-dad (Brad Garrett) after college and finds a job deejaying bar-mitzvahs in his small hometown. At one of these celebrations, he meets Domino (Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew immediately clicks with Domino, but his connection with Lola—who is usually slow to trust—is even more meaningful. But when Domino’s fiancé comes home from a work trip, Andrew realizes his future is even more uncertain than it was before.
I’ll admit, I questioned some of the writing choices Raiff makes early in the movie. While the script was amusing, timely, and believable, it also set up a bummer of a story. I wondered why Raiff would write himself such an unlikable character. The character of Andrew can be cringy, if I’m being honest. But as the movie went on, I realized how impressive Raiff’s screenplay was. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” presents two characters in Andrew and Domino who don’t have their lives together, but really want to. It shows life as it often is, messy and complicated and full of messy and complicated people. It’s not something you usually see in comedies that are this funny. I mean, movies will try, but few make it work this well.
By the end, I wanted to grab a beer with Cooper Raiff. That’s the kind of actor he is—he can get you on his side quickly. He was giving off strong Nick Miller vibes (I’m watching “New Girl” for the first time and I’m at the point where Nick’s lovable loser schtick is really hitting its stride…so this is a high compliment). Dakota Johnson has figured out what kind of character she can play and she keeps sticking to what she knows. Newcomer Vanessa Burghardt—who, like her character, has autism—holds her own beside her more experienced costars. Burghardt recently said that she’s struggled in auditions since “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” because casting agents aren’t sure that she’ll be able to play characters who are not autistic. I hope her luck turns around.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth” isn’t anywhere nearly as predictable as its line dance lyric suggests. It’s capable of giving you whiplash. I look forward to Cooper Raiff’s bright future. He’s off to a great start.