CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH (2022)
Release Date: 06/17/22 [Apple TV+] [Sundance '22]
Studio: Apple TV+
"A young man who works as a Bar Mitzvah party host strikes up a friendship with a mother and her autistic daughter."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
If you didn’t know it happened in reality, you’d be forgiven for thinking that writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff’s meteoric rise in the American indie scene is more in tune with fiction than with fact.
Fresh out of school, Raiff managed a minor VOD hit with Shithouse, also released as Freshman Year in some territories, with critics rightfully singing his praises. For his sophomore effort, he’s proven his debut was no flash in the pan, delivering one of the most genuinely endearing films in recent memory – Cha Cha Real Smooth.
Filmed during the pandemic, and with higher-profile talent in his cast for good measure, Raiff had his worked cut out for him but, almost as if we should’ve expected not to doubt him, he executes this beautiful celluloid slice with the ease of a filmmaker who feels far more seasoned.
In case you’re wondering, yes, Cha Cha Real Smooth takes its name from “The Cha Cha Slide”, and the song itself is neatly incorporated into Raiff’s narrative, one that explores the post-graduate mentality of “the rest of your life has begun” and it’s very much okay to not feel like you have your shit together.
Andrew (Raiff) is a charming young man, a recent college graduate who is living in Jersey, in the family home (not his choice), working an unfulfilling 9-5 and trying to not overly obsess about his travelling girlfriend’s likely infidelity abroad. His mother (Leslie Mann, a pleasure, as always) is enthusiastically encouraging him to seek future prospects, his younger brother (Evan Assante) is ecstatic at having his big brother help him navigate his teen years – their relationship one of the film’s strongest dynamics – and his step-dad (Brad Garrett) disapproves of the whole situation entirely.
Unexpectedly it’s his little brother that puts him on a new path of self-discovery. Tagging along to his friend’s bar mitzvah, Andrew soon realises that his ability to hype the crowd up is an essential service to that scene, with fellow parents immediately clinging to the offbeat charm of Andrew and his effortlessness at making every guest feel welcome. The mothers are especially taken with Andrew (maybe not always for the most professional of reasons), including the somewhat outcast Domino (Dakota Johnson, just magic), a young mother to Lola (Vanessa Burghardt, stellar), an autistic teen who’s often cruelly bullied by her peers, especially at such events as these.
The film doesn’t exactly shock us with its narrative choices in that Andrew befriends Lola and Domino, clearly falling in love with the latter, but her being engaged means heartbreak for all involved is inevitable. But there’s such an honesty to how he frames his characters that we forgive any familiarity.
As much as a party-starter-for-bar-mitzvah’s could have been used as a wildly comedic premise, Raiff always keeps the film grounded in humour that never deviates towards over-the-top set-pieces for the sake of a cheap laugh. In the same vein as a storyteller like Judd Apatow, Raiff injects nuances and a bittersweetness into his proceedings, resulting in a warm hug of a film that knows to play nice without sacrificing the truth.