How refreshing that even in the year 2022, a romantic dramedy can come along, still managing to feel every bit as fresh and fluffy as that genre’s output in the 90s. What was once hailed as dying cinema in the early 2000s had a resurgence over the last few years. Many would attribute this to Netflix’s hot streak; whatever the reason, I am just thrilled that this is where the genre has steered us. Writer/director/producer/lead actor Cooper Raiff (2020’s quirky romantic comedy Shithouse) captures the lightning-in-a-bottle feeling of falling hard in love as a young adult with Cha Cha Real Smooth. The chemistry between the three leads—Vanessa Burghardt, Dakota Johnson, and Raiff—is so lovely, and charming to watch.
Andrew (Raiff) is at a crossroads in his life. 22 years old and back living with his family in Jersey, Andrew studied marketing at Tulane, and yet here he is, working at Meat Sticks. Andrew is very close with his younger brother, David (Evan Assante), and may have found his true calling! When Andrew attends the bar and bat mitzvah parties of David’s circle of friends, a chance to finally escape his dead-end job emerges. A swarm of Jewish mothers in desperate need of a designated “party orchestrator” pounces on him like fresh meat. Andrew embraces the opportunity head-on, dubbing himself the “Jig Conductor.” On his new path, he comes upon the loving Domino (Johnson) and her fiercely intelligent autistic daughter, Lola (Burghardt.) Despite Andrew having a sort-of girlfriend who moved away to Barcelona, and Domino having a fiancé that is very much still in the picture, the two share an instant connection.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is unique in that it spreads a specifically Jewish experience in the form of the bar and bat mitzvah scene. The party sequences all feel necessary and organic to the story. Inspired by his own exploits (and his first kiss!), one can feel the passion behind Raiff’s cleverly-scripted narrative. Raiff is not afraid to play Andrew as drunken and unlikable at times. Regardless of his decision-making, I still felt myself connecting to Andrew’s story. He is truly there for Domino and Lola when they need him the most. Lola’s interactions with Andrew are the film at its best. When Andrew essentially becomes a babysitter for Lola, how can one not fall head over heels in love with the concept of Lola, Andrew, and Domino being a family dream team?
The film’s title, centering around the big line dance that we all know and love from basically any party, ever, is earned with flying colors during the final act. The editing couples with the soundtrack to create a literal punch of musicality. The emotional high point happens shortly after, between Domino and Andrew. Raiff and Johnson have never been better. Though the central cast is obviously spectacular, supporting player Leslie Mann is also excellent in a meaty role playing upon her natural comedy chops.
Approaching the Sundance Film Festival, I never guessed that Cha Cha Real Smooth would become one of my favorite movies at the fest. Cooper Raiff carves out his name as one to watch, because if the quality here is any factor, he has some seriously amazing things ahead of him. With biting, mature humor and charm oozing out of every orifice, Cha Cha Real Smooth is a crowd-pleasing great time that I will continue to champion as the year progresses.
Cha Cha Real Smooth invited viewers to come “cha cha slide” when it debuted at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It was scooped up for $15 million by Apple TV Plus, and will premiere on the streamer sometime this year.