“alright now, were gonna do the basic step, To the left, Take it back now y’all, One hop this time, Right foot lets stomp, Left foot lets stomp” Cha Cha Real Smooth by Cooper Raiff is one of the most beautiful movies one can possibly see and experience. It won hearts at both Sundance and SXSW, the former of where it won the audience award. There is so much to unpack and to love about everything that is put together in this little slice of cinematic heaven, so let us dive right into the magic that is Cha Cha Real Smooth.
The film focuses on Andrew, who is played by Cooper Raiff, as he’s living in his brother’s bedroom, David played by Evan Assante, as he’s trying to figure out what to do with his life. He’s twenty two, his girlfriend just left to study in Barcelona and he’s finding himself in a rut as he works at local fast food joint Meat Sticks. As we learn from the very beginning of the film, Andrew is a hopeless romantic, always chasing the older girl as we learn at a bar mitzvah as he expresses interest in the entertainment his parents hired played by Leslie Mann and later Brad Garrett as his step-father Greg. After he is turned down by the older woman, he is heart broken, fast forward 10 years, he’s living his twenties, trying to make the best out of it and is again left in a precarious situation. He is tasked with taking David to a bar mitzvah, where everyone at the party is about as interested in engaging with one another or the entertainment as people are generally interested in listening to the news, that is too say they’d rather be anywhere else. Disappointed by the situation, Andrew decides to be a ‘party starter’ to get his brother, his friends, and the bat mitzvah girl into the festivities. This is where he locks eyes with Domino played by Dakota Johnson and her daughter Lola played by Vanessa Burghardt. He strikes up a conversation, rather smoothly with them, and finds out that Lola is autistic and takes it upon himself to be as inclusive as he can and make sure she gets to enjoy herself as well trying to get her to break out of her shell while also being sympathetic. In doing so, he develops a blossoming relationship with Domino and things start to heat up, but it cannot possibly be that easy for Andrew to get what he honestly desires.
The performances are what truly make Cha Cha Real Smooth the movie it is, there is no denying that. The chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff is palatable, it feels like they’ve been secretly in love for decades and they’re finally letting the smallest amount out. It is some of the most beautiful chemistry seen on screen. Aside from their chemistry though it is their individual performances that also shine bright, both in Cooper’s vulnerability and audacity to pursue his dreams while also wearing his heart on his sleeve is admirable especially considering its only one of three hats he wears in the making of Cha Cha Real Smooth. However, Dakota’s performance of this woman whose been through hell and back on more than one occasion, trying to hold her life together and support her daughter is magnificent. She takes every ounce of motherly love and self-worth and appreciation for herself and throws it all into one performance that evicts such raw emotions its impossible not to feel for her. However, the true breakout star who, as Cooper mentions himself, is the absolute heart of the film is newcomer Vanessa Burghardt who steals every scene she is, breaking the audience down and forcing them to be vulnerable with the characters and makes it impossible not to fall in love with the performance she brings to the screen.
Cooper Raiff manages to perfectly craft a beautifully touching and heartwarming film with swift direction and incredible performances. To win the audience award at Sundance and to then be purchased by Apple TV+ clearly shows that what he has made is something that needs to be seen and enjoyed for what it is, which simply put is a film for the ages. Cha Cha Real Smooth has the makings of a bonafede classic and truly will go down as a movie that feels part John Huges, part Greta Gerwig and all Cooper Raiff. His career will be prosperous, and I hope Cha Cha Real Smooth brings you as much love and joy as it did for me. Cha Cha Real Smooth is, without a doubt one of the most perfectly crafted and executed movies ever to grace screens.