Cha Cha Real Smooth

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Cha Cha Real Smooth caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January when it won the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Months later, it quietly appeared on Apple TV+ June 17 to little attention. In this age of streaming, it’s often hard to tell exactly how many people are watching a particular movie. However, social media can be a gauge, and the buzz after its public debut has been virtually nonexistent. It’s easy to see why.

Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff has fashioned an entire film around himself. Andrew is a directionless college graduate currently working a dead-end job at Meat Sticks. The fast-food joint is a thinly veiled homage to Hot Dog on a Stick. That contrivance reeks of a hipster’s idea of a funny career. He accompanies his younger brother David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah. There Andrew encounters a crowd of wallflowers. The party is dying. Though he lacks the initiative to secure a job that utilizes his college education, he takes a leadership position here. While mingling throughout the soiree, he encourages kids to leave their seats and go dance. One of these children is an autistic young girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew bets her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) that he can get Lola to join the others on the dance floor. His clever ruse succeeds and that impresses her mom. The other mothers at the shindig all find him charming too. A burgeoning career as a DJ/emcee/standup at future celebrations is born.

The title references the “Cha Cha Slide,” a 2000 song that remains a ubiquitous staple at birthdays, quinceañeras, and weddings. Yet the story’s focus is not on his fledging business as a “party starter.” The promising setup hints at a romance between a 22-year-old infatuated with an older woman. Their flirtatious chemistry is mutual but it turns confusing. Their connection is complicated by unnecessary additions. She has a fiancee (Raúl Castillo) away on business and he has a girlfriend (Amara Pedroso Saquel) studying in Barcelona. Dakota Johnson is a capable actress, but her vague character is a baffling enigma. She confesses to Andrew she just had a miscarriage like it was a mild inconvenience, then attempts to seduce the fellow — all in the same night! She’s undeniably longing for something more in life. Maybe the spark of a loving relationship. Although, she simultaneously entices Andrew while pushing him away. Domino doesn’t seem to know what she wants, nor do we. Depression is not a crime. At the very least, Domino should seek the help of a therapist. Meanwhile, Andrew lives at home, so the cast is further stacked with Andrew’s genial mother (Leslie Mann) and a cranky step-dad (Brad Garrett).

Cha Cha Real Smooth rests entirely on the charisma of its lead. That’s a problem because Andrew’s preening demeanor and puppy-dog expressions are not endearing. Oh the screenplay is strident in its presentation that he is such a lovely, sweet human being. He’s a good guy darn it! Every character exists to reflect how wonderful Andrew is, but the act rings hollow. His cloying behavior feels like a facade he wields to serve his own demands. Since the saga doesn’t inspire any desire in the viewer to see him triumph — in life or in love — the narrative fails. There is some promise to be found in the sincerity of the rest of the production. Engaging actors sustain the chronicle with authentic performances. All of whom are more interesting than the central lead. Cooper Raiff is a talented writer and director. He shows the vestiges of a Woody Allen or a John Cassavetes, but he’s not likable as the hero. He’s the same dreary self-interested schmuck he is at the end of the picture as he was at the beginning.


7 Responses to “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

  1. Great. Now I’ve got the song stuck in my head. Along with the dance choreography.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel's Reviews Says:

    I was one of the few out of Sundance who didn’t care for this film. I particularly didn’t like where they ended Dakota Johnson’s character as that didn’t seem like a good marriage for her

    Liked by 1 person

    • So far I haven’t enjoyed anything that came out of Sundance. Sad because it used to be my favorite festival producing some of my favorite films of the year.


      • Rachel's Reviews Says:

        It was a weak year which was surprising because the previous year was excellent despite being pandemic. I felt like such a grump

        Liked by 1 person

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