‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ review: Sundance hit comes to Apple+

Will someone please continue to give two-time filmmaker Cooper Raiff the resources he needs to make films he wants while firmly and permanently stripping his title privileges? From the director of the equally great, also terribly titled “S—house,” Cha Cha Real Smooth, the sweet, sincere, brilliantly acted new film, is a delight and deserves much more than a name unfamiliar to the lyrics of the hit DJ Casper’s 2000 “Cha Cha Slide” must sound like an itch cream commercial jingle.

On the other hand, Raiff may simply respond well to the challenge of making extremely likeable silk purses out of outwardly unattractive pig ears. After all, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is exactly what a Sundance indie is about a preternaturally decent but directionless college-educated, middle-class, white man in his 20s who falls in love with the single mother of an autistic daughter while raising his… younger brother helps Ingenieur get a deeply respectful first kiss and work as a bar mitzvah should be called “party starter” to elicit the eye roll his logline supposedly deserves. Add to that the director’s portrayal of himself as the happily good-natured star and Dakota’s wacky Johnson as the effortlessly dazzling woman who responds to his fumbling flirtations, and even for the mildly jaded 2022 viewer, alarm bells must be ringing.

But wait! Get your eyeballs out of that dusty corner they might have rolled into and put them back in. The film is a charmer, and Raiff, despite the significant odds he takes on himself, a remarkably winning presence – imagine a Zach Braff guy you don’t like. not necessarily want fall into a moat. As the film dances to the conventions of this well-worn genre and then deftly glides (left! right!) to avoid them, you might find yourself just clapping along, even though it’s all dead uncool. Uncool can be a lot of fun.

That’s a fact that Andrew (Raiff), a 22-year-old college grad with a degree in marketing, a outgoing Fulbright Scholar and no real-life experience other than being adept at parties, understands naturally. Perhaps this talent and tendency to develop crushes on women slightly older than him dates back to one he attended as a tween, as Andrew, played as a child by Javien Mercado, who sort of had the exact same lost puppy eyes as Raiff was smitten with the young woman tasked with making this party knock their G-rated socks off their feet. Driving home in the car, as he longs for his newfound and equally newly lost love, his mother (a radiant, soulful Leslie Mann) climbs into the backseat to comfort him.

Vanessa Burghardt, left, and Dakota Johnson in

Vanessa Burghardt, left, and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth.

(AppleTV+)

It’s a role she’s still fulfilling a decade later, despite her own loosely defined instability now that Andrew has moved back in with her and stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett), whom he dislikes. Sharing a room with his adoring younger brother David (Evan Assante, just sweet enough), Andrew works as a McJob at a facility called Meat Sticks, waiting for his life to begin. Suddenly it seems so.

Andrew takes David to a friend’s bar mitzvah and impresses the attending parents by getting the lifeless party going and bringing the lonely, bullied Lola (a wonderful debut from neurodivergent actress Vanessa Burghardt) and her cautious, observant mother Domino (Johnson) to the dance persuades soil. Andrew befriends Lola, which leads to a babysitting gig, which in turn leads to some increasingly intimate encounters with Domino. And they do have chemistry, with Johnson proving once again to be perhaps the finest performer of her generation for beautiful, complicated women whose aura of hard-won melancholy is an enigma where it’s entirely understandable that weak men could go half-mad , when they try to air it.

A more cynical viewer than you are at this stage of “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” might accuse Andrew of snuggling up to daughter just to get closer to her beautiful, concerned mother. But one of the great things about Raiff’s film is that it’s as invested in Andrew’s other relationships as he is in this romance. The storytelling’s group hug even extends to Domino’s initially chilly fiancé Joseph (Raul Castillo), while supporting characters like David’s school friends and the bevy of Jewish mothers who hustle Andrew into the party start duty get happy moments. An expertly observed sex scene between Andrew and Macy (Odeya Rush), his high school classmate-turned-casual date, is case in point: their post-coital banter sizzles with the very specific awkwardness of the situation, while also being hilarious on the side .

Occasionally, the strain of having to craft dramatic conflict without ever blaming anyone begins to mar Raiff’s otherwise supple screenplay. And if the film has one structural flaw, it’s that it runs a bit long at 1 hour 47 minutes. There might be one montage too many set to the tones of a moody pop track. And it ends over and over again, a sign of the film’s eagerness to find ways to forgive all of its characters for transgressions so minor we’ve already forgotten they committed them. But the desire to do the right thing with all of his characters is genuine, and it doesn’t matter if we all like them almost as much as Raiff. However, as the ending wisely, easily, and heartily affirms, no one should hope for a decent ending at 22; That’s when adult life is just beginning its gloriously messy beginning.

So yes, this is a wonderful film about nice people who are always lovely to one another, and given the gloom that reigns in the world at the moment, it could easily be accused of misreading the space very badly. But on the other hand, just like Andrew’s uncanny talent for igniting the fiercest gathering with little more than irrepressible merriment and a discreet sip or 10 of vodka, perhaps his unfashionable good humor is just what’s needed. Sometimes the only thing stopping us from hitting the dance floor to shake off the blues is the lack of a guy willing to make a fool of himself up there first. And “Cha Cha Real Smooth” — with his heart on his sleeve, “Funky Town” on his playlist, and a track that has you apologizing every time you say it — could be just that guy.

‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’

Valuation: R, for speech and some sexual content

Duration: 1 hour, 47 minutes

To play: Limited edition and streaming June 17 on Apple TV+

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-06-16/cha-cha-real-smooth-review-apple-tv ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ review: Sundance hit comes to Apple+

Sarah Ridley

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