Words By

Hannah Strong


Cha Cha Real Smooth – first-look review

Cooper Raiff plays a postgrad party starter who falls for an older woman in the writer/director/actor’s frustrating second feature.

Freshly out of college and back in his suburban hometown, Andrew (Cooper Raiff) finds himself at a crossroads in life. His girlfriend has left him behind while she studies in Barcelona, and moving back into his mother’s home means living under the same roof as his slightly stern step-father Greg (Brad Garrett). At least it means he has time to hang out with younger brother David (Evan Assante), a preteen steadily attending a stream of classmates’ bar and bat mitzvahs over the summer and autumn.

It’s while accompanying his little brother to one of these parties that Andrew finds a potential calling as a ‘party starter’, and – more importantly – meets Incredibly Hot Mom Domino (Dakota Johnson), who is a doting, if not distracted, mother to her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). After assisting Domino during a personal crisis, Andrew develops an infatuation with her, all while offering David fairly questionable romantic advice and occasionally hooking up with former high school classmate Macy (Odeya Rush).

Writer/director/star Raiff’s sophomore effort follows on from Freshman Year, in which he played the sensitive, charming young fella who meets the complicated girl of his dreams and seeks to convince her life ain’t so bad after all. The problem is, Raiff seems blissfully unaware that his protagonist in Cha Cha Real Smooth is the least interesting part of the narrative; while he’s singing Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ with preteens and wrestling with postgrad ennui, Domino wonders if her life will forever be wrapped up in caring for her daughter and playing attentive wife to her high-flying fiancé Joseph (Raúl Castillo) and his mother (played by a criminally underutilised Leslie Mann) finds her bipolar disorder isolates her from other parents.

There’s something of Zach Braff’s Garden State in Raiff’s sensibilities, but while the soft boy and manic pixie dream girl dynamic were de rigueur for 2004, it feels outdated in 2022. Andrew might be a sensitive soul, but his persistent desire to pursue Domino despite her being in a happy relationship with her fiancé is treated as romantic rather than overstepping a boundary, and Domino’s clinical depression – while hinted at – only serves to make her a more fascinating woman for Andrew to fantasise about. We don’t learn anything about Domino outside of Andrew’s vision of her, despite Dakota Johnson’s hypnotic performance (which is miles better than the film deserves).

It’s understandable why Raiff would choose to cast himself in the role of white knight soft boy (He loves kids! He wants to work for a NGO! He loves his mum!) but it’s a grating choice, particularly as there’s a missed opportunity to satirise the ‘sensitive, self-serving young man’ trope by having someone, anyone, call out Andrew for positioning himself as Domino’s trusty shoulder to cry on. But Cha Cha Real Smooth has no interest in intellectual or emotional rigour; it’s got all the narrative scope and self-awareness of a self-insert fanfic published on Blogspot.

Published 24 Jan 2022

Tags: Cha Cha Real Smooth Cooper Raiff Dakota Johnson Sundance Film Festival

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