Sundance 2022: Cha Cha Real Smooth

Directed by: Cooper Raiff
Distributed by: Apple TV+

Written by Taylor Baker


“Kissing is for two people to enjoy.” 

Andrew, (Cooper Raiff)

Cooper Raiff’s sophomore follow-up to his debut film and SXSW winner “Shithouse” builds on the compassion, interpersonal relationships, and sincerity that warmed our hearts so effectively the first time around. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” follows Raiff’s character Andrew as he navigates what’s next after college. His girlfriend is moving to Barcelona on a Fullbright Scholarship and he has ideations of moving there with her. That is until he arrives at a bat mitzvah with his little brother and turns the celebration around. At the end of the evening, he’s swarmed by mothers who want to hire him to throw their children’s mitzvahs. In the middle of this event, Raiff’s Andrew meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burkhardt). Beginning a relationship equal parts romance and compassion with the mother-daughter pair.

As writer, director, and actor Raiff at age 23 puts himself in exclusive company. He bridges the distance between creator and viewer by using specificity to make his narrative universal. Condensing the interfamilial and romantic lifelike drama in a way that feels effortless, and also understands as Maggie Gyllenhaal did that one of the most beautiful images in film is long shots and close-ups of his co-star Dakota Johnson. Similarly, he comprehends that earnestness can go a long way with the viewer. Constrained by what he knows as a writer, it’s abundantly clear that he’s able to take the limited things he’s familiar with and experienced in and concoct them into a must-watch film.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth’s” supporting players are made up of Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Raúl Castillo Jr., Odeya Rush, and Evan Assante. Each feels like a whole realized person with interiority and a personal life. It’s the subtle pieces of the filmmaking process with Raiff like this that elevate the film. Raiff makes moments like eating otter pops over the kitchen counter late at night and talking in a car have uncanny emotional resonance and impact. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is about humanity, love, and communication. It isn’t just a joy to watch, it’s a bit of cinematic treasure that you hold close to your heart and smile about. And to think Raiff is just getting started.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the U.S. Dramatic; Audience Award.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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