Cha Cha Real Smooth

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Cha Cha Real Smooth
"The reason all this earnestness works is because Raiff really cares about all his characters, taking time to consider each in their own right." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

If you like your cinema to come with positive energy, you'll feel as charged as a Duracell bunny after spending time in the company of Cooper Raiff's Cha Cha Real Smooth, although some may find the writer/director's "it's nice to be nice" screenwriting mantra gets into overkill (or should that be overcuddle?) territory in places.

Raiff - who still hasn't quite got the hang of titles after his debut Shithouse (renamed as the rather more anodyne Freshman Year) - also stars as Andrew, a recent graduate who, like so many before him, has entered the move-back-home-dead-end-job limbo between schooling and whatever comes next. The unlikeliest of prospects springs up on the night he takes his younger bro David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah, where his charm with the youngsters and ability to get them on the dancefloor makes him an instant hit with the parents and gets him hired as a party starter all over town.

These events see him spark up repeated meet-cutes with Domino (Dakota Johnson), the mum of autistic youngster Lola (Vanessa Burghardt, who is on the autistic spectrum herself), and he's soon striking a bond with them both. There is a lot of cuteness here - dance move cuteness, ice pop cuteness, hamster cuteness, you name it, it's real cute. But there's also a lot of heart, with Johnson, bringing depth to the sub-Graduate plotline as Domino is drawn to the vibrant and sweet-spirited Andrew while her fiance (Raul Castillo) is out of town, even while she realises its his energy and the sheer possibilities that are open to him, compared to the stresses of her own life, that is the attraction rather than wanting to be with a younger man.

The relationship between Lola and Andrew also develops in an unforced manner and in a way that while not ramming home its 'message' is also likely to offer some insight for neurotypical viewers. Raiff's general ability to deal with ideas that many films would highlight as "issues" in the scripting equivalent of neon lights - including Andrew's mother's (Leslie Mann) mental health - with a lightness of touch is admirable, and one thing's for certain - he loves and appreciates mums and they're likely to love him right back when they see this, a sensation endorsed by his Audience Award win at Sundance.

The reason all this earnestness works is because Raiff really cares about all his characters, taking time to consider each in their own right, from Lola's experience of frequently being unnecessarily babied - a reason she loves Andrew's more direct approach - to his brother's anxiety about how to secure his first kiss. Andrew, despite his almost puppy dog 'good boyness' is just flawed enough to keep him interesting, even if it's only in his over-eagerness to be nice to everyone else. Although Raiff's desire to make sure everyone has their own version of a happily ever after means his film has at least three endings too many, you'll be hard-pressed not to come out of the cinema without a smile on your face and a hope that Raiff will make another film soon.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2022
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A directionless college graduate embarks on a relationship with a young mum and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig.


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