After taking CODA all the way to Best Picture Oscar gold earlier this year, Apple TV+ continues their trend of putting down serious cash to acquire wholesome hits out of the Sundance Film Festival. Though Cha Cha Real Smooth didn’t quite score the $25 million price tag that the streamer shelled out last year, $15 million is still a chunk of change to put down for distribution rights of a movie titled after lyrics from a DJ Casper song. It turns out to be another laudable purchase from the formidable streaming service, by virtue of being in their wheelhouse of magnanimous entertainment and in line with their quality-over-quantity pattern of content development. Putting the business aspects aside, it’s simply a sweet movie with a smart script and two winning leads.
Cha Cha Real Smooth follows amiable and adorable twentysomething Andrew (Cooper Raiff) as he toils away at food court oddity Meat Sticks while living with his mom (Leslie Mann) and his stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett). While taking his teenage brother David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah, he inspires young mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) to hit the dance floor and get funky to “Funkytown”. Andrew takes this as a cue to try his hand at becoming a party host and professional DJ for the mitzvahs to come, while also helping take care of Lola while Domino’s fiancé Joseph (Raúl Castillo) is perpetually out of town on business.
The 24-year-old Raiff, who is also the writer and director of Cha Cha Real Smooth, has an infectious energy and youthful exuberance that comes across in both his performance and his filmmaking. The sharp screenplay allows us to gain insight on who Andrew is by the instant and lasting connections he forms with those around him. By the time he and Domino have their second and third conversations, it seems like these two have known each other for years. Andrew’s boyish charm almost makes him seem too good to be true at times but Raiff shades him with moments of ugliness, like his not-so-subtle jabs at his stepfather, that show the downside of being so demonstrative. “I know how to soft-step,” he drunkenly details to Domino one evening. “I just don’t want to right now.”
The inevitable romance between Andrew and Domino is necessarily given the most amount of screen time in Cha Cha Real Smooth but Raiff finds pivotal moments for Andrew to share with all the main characters where they truly see each other. Even though Andrew isn’t exactly someone who is in a position to give out life advice, his younger brother David still giddily looks up to him for tips about how to get through middle school. There’s a conversation Andrew has with his mother late in the film that is so open-hearted, gracious and downright sweet that she jokingly asks him if he’s trying to kill her as she tears up. Andrew’s interactions with Joseph are understandably awkward and even terse but their final scene together underscores how these two men with different backgrounds and sensibilities have found common ground.
Johnson, who also serves as a co-producer, has become something of a star in the indie movie circuit since her work in the Fifty Shades trilogy and she delivers another well-calibrated performance here. Domino has a push-pull relationship with Andrew where she’s withholding one minute and unmistakably flirtatious the next. Raiff and Johnson have a palpable chemistry that makes their time together feel vibrant, even if we’ve seen these story beats in other romantic dramedies before. The film’s overall arc is familiar as well and even though it’s still enjoyable, I hope Raiff is able to push himself even more artistically in his next effort. Big-hearted and bright, Cha Cha Real Smooth is a charming and charismatic film that, indeed, goes down real smooth.
Score – 3.5/5
More new movies coming this weekend:
Opening only in theaters is Lightyear, an animated adventure starring Chris Evans and Keke Palmer that serves as an origin story for the Buzz Lightyear space ranger character that inspired the correlated toy from the Toy Story films.
Streaming on Netflix is Spiderhead, a sci-fi thriller starring Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller about two convicts living in a near-future society where prisoners can reduce their sentence time by volunteering for experiments using emotion-altering drugs
Premiering on Hulu is Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, a romantic comedy starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack exploring the relationship that develops between a retired widow and a young male prostitute after their initial tryst.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup